What do women with learning disabilities understand about the menopause?

Middle-aged woman

The onset of the menopause in women with learning disabilities occurs earlier than in the general population, and earlier still in women with Down’s syndrome (DS).

This study set out to listen to a number of women with learning disabilities to find out what they knew about the menopause and about their sexual health more generally.

The information gathered for the study came from 45 women with learning disabilities (17 with Down syndrome, 28 without Down syndrome; aged from 35–65) using a semi-structured interview.

The study found that most women were unaware of the fact that they were undergoing menopause-associated changes. Few of the women interviewed were able to show that they understood why they menstruated.

The study authors also found that support services had difficulties in disentangling behavioural consequences of menopausal symptoms from behaviours that were arising from other causes, which caused some difficulties for the women concerned and for the nature of the support they received. The findings are discussed in the article in the broader context of health education training and the authors suggest a need for more accessible health resources to help women to understand issues and take more control of their situation.

They conclude that better awareness of menopause-related health issues in women with learning disabilities would significantly improve the experience of this important life change and that more readily available health education materials specifically tailored to the needs of people with learning disabilities would be a major step in helping this to happen.

Menopausal Experiences of Women with Intellectual Disabilities, Willis D et al, in Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 24: 74–85.

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Andre Tomlin

André Tomlin is an Information Scientist with 20 years experience working in evidence-based healthcare. He's worked in the NHS, for Oxford University and since 2002 as Managing Director of Minervation Ltd, a consultancy company who do clever digital stuff for charities, universities and the public sector. Most recently André has been the driving force behind the Mental Elf and the National Elf Service; an innovative digital platform that helps professionals keep up to date with simple, clear and engaging summaries of evidence-based research. André is a Trustee at the Centre for Mental Health and an Honorary Research Fellow at University College London Division of Psychiatry. He lives in Bristol, surrounded by dogs, elflings and lots of woodland!

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