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 begin 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, or choose bottled water with added electrolytes. 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 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, and 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, and 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 of 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.