Caregiving and Menopause: How To Handle The Double-Whammy


Headaches, muscle tension, anxiety, fatigue, insomnia…if you're responsible for taking care of an elderly loved one, you're probably intimately familiar with several items on this list.

If you're taking care of an elder while going through menopause you're probably familiar with all the items on the list—plus a few others: dizziness, hot flashes, mood swings, and mental confusion.

It's enough to make you feel like your body and mind have hit some sort of internal self-destruct button.

Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D., medical director for the Nutritional Magnesium Association and author of the book, "Menopause Naturally," says that American women struggle with menopause, in part because of Western perspectives on aging. "In certain cultures, menopause is an easy transition—the elderly are revered for their age and wisdom. In our culture, when women get old and lose their looks, they feel as though no one wants them, so they meet this transition with tension and negative emotion," she says.

The truth is that menopause is a natural process that, according to Dean, can be dealt with as long as a woman takes care of herself. Unfortunately, many caregivers find it difficult to do just that.

The average age of a female family caregiver in the United States is 48 years old, according to statistics from the National Alliance for Caregiving.

Since menopause typically begins somewhere between the ages of 45 and 55, many women are finding themselves thrust into the role of caregiver right around the time they being experiencing the first symptoms of menopause.

Caregivers going through menopause may find that their feelings of irritability, confusion, depression and fatigue become intensified when the challenges of caring for a loved one collide with the physical and mental consequences of fluctuating hormones.

This one-two punch can make for what Dean calls a, "vicious cycle," of stress and worsening symptoms.

She offers some tips for simple things women can do to help cope with the symptoms of menopause while caring for a loved one:

  • Take a bath: While a relaxing soak with a glass of wine and fragrant bubble bath is an oft-prescribed way for a caregiver to unwind after a long day, Dean adds a unique twist to the tradition. She advises women who are going through menopause to add two cups of Epsom salt and a half-cup of detox clay (so-called "living clays" like bentonites and montmorillonites) to their bath water. According to Dean, when your menstrual cycle ceases, your body's natural detoxification cycle is negatively impacted. This may lead to health issues such as weight gain and heart problems. A clay bath is meant to facilitate the removal of toxic substances from your body and may help reduce the symptoms of menopause.
  • Stay hydrated: The hot flashes and night sweats of menopause may make you more susceptible to dehydration and its accompanying symptoms (dry skin, dizziness, headaches, irritability, etc.). Dean recommends that menopausal women drink at least half their body weight in ounces of water every day (A 150 lb. woman would need to drink 75 ounces). If you can tolerate it, try adding a quarter teaspoon of sea salt to every pint (16 oz.) of water you drink. This will help replace some of the nutrients you lose when you sweat. An additional tip for dealing with a vicious hot flash? Cool down more quickly by drinking ice water.
  • Max out your magnesium: Magnesium is a vital mineral that impacts hundreds of different functions in your body. Women experiencing the symptoms of menopause may be more prone to magnesium deficiency due to hot flashes and night sweats. This can cause an intensification of the symptoms often associated with menopause (sleeplessness, irritability, stiffness and joint pain, headaches, craving carbs, etc.) and may eventually lead to issues with high blood pressure, bone density loss, even type II diabetes. Humans do not naturally produce magnesium so they must acquire the nutrient via food or supplementation. Foods high in magnesium include: nuts, whole grains, legumes and green, leafy vegetables (Spinach, etc.). Magnesium pills may be beneficial if you aren't able to include enough of mineral-rich foods into your diet. Just be sure to talk to your doctor before taking supplements as too much magnesium can cause diarrhea, cramping, even kidney failure.
  • Seek sources of edible estrogen: Hormone therapy is a popularly prescribed remedy for the symptoms of menopause. Many women benefit from medicinal intervention during menopause, so you should talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of this type of treatment. Dean advises going the natural route before turning to prescriptions. She recommends several helpful foods, including: pumpkin seeds, red clover tea, and mung beans.
  • Scrap the spices, abstain from alcohol: Want to cut down on the frequency of your hot flashes? Cut spicy foods out of your diet. Dean pinpoints cayenne pepper and cinnamon as two common hot-flash triggers. According to the Mayo Clinic, some women may also find that alcohol, caffeine and hot beverages may elicit hot flashes.

Ultimately, the onset menopause marks the beginning of a period of significant change for your body.

According to Dean, more than 30 different symptoms have been linked to the hormonal fluctuations that occur during this time in a woman's life. The best way to reduce the impact these symptoms have on your life is to try and manage your stress levels as best you can.

Outside of taking time to decompress, Dean suggests viewing menopause and your loved one's aging through a similar lens—as natural processes that you cannot stop or "fix." Your priority should be to do the best you can to make your senior and yourself as comfortable and happy as possible.

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I think this was written for me also! Being the sole caregiver for my 91 year old Mum, I find myself getting increasingly short on patience. She is jealous of the relationship my husband and I have...her marriage was not happy. I have to listen to her constantly being critical of my husband. Dealing with menopause, hot flashes, sleep loss , job stress etc. I feel like the person I was is all used up and gone. My Mum unknowingly creates so much tension in my home with her sarcastic comments, it's making me loose patience with my best husband. I try to set ground rules with her but we go over the same things every day and she still "runs the show." My home doesn't even feel like mine anymore.
Don't have a clue about what to do.............
freqflyer: It is amazing how our parents don't seem to think of us as seniors. We will always be younger, youthful, vibrant, children in their minds. And they will suck us dry if we allow it! I must admit, for me, the reverse is also true too. I will always see my mom as my MOM. She should take care of me! She should be interested in my healing, and pain from cancer. Nope. According to her, she is in more pain than me, there is nothing that can be done for her arthritis-my cancer is curable, she has no support groups-my cancer has support groups.

In reality is, she is dying faster than I am. She is 80 I am 57. In the next 4 years she will age faster, be hospitalized, have infections or flare ups, I have to accept that, while I try to figure out how to make my own life richer. Part of our problem, is us.
If any of my mom's 3 sons were to take her in her life would be very different. They love her, but she'd be an after thought as they'd have to provide for their families and pursue their own hobbies. And she would be happy to allow them their aging processes, she would probably be happy to battle her demons in order to tend to her son's needs. She won't live with them, it's easier to rely on me.
I saw an elderly woman in the grocery store and it was obvious her son drove her there. He was following her around with his hands in his pockets, looking bewildered. If he was a she, she'd have been wheeling mom around, picking things off the shelves, planning her meals, and clipping her coupons. Why?
Women, are we born caretakers, should we be happy for this privilege?
Thought you were writing this for me! To add to the mix, one parent suddenly became ill of and passed in a matter of wks. , and the other parent was diagnosed with dementia and suddenly its up to me to take care of everything. To add to this therewad relative who causes alot of problems which required hiring a attorney and if that wasn't enough I had to seek employement after 14 1/2 yrs. in the middle of of all this and yes I have going thru menopause before during and after.