Nicola Wolfe is the founder of the Menopause Maze programme and advocate to get Ireland talking about the issues women face as their hormones change and they enter the three stages of menopause.
Wolfe’s background is nursing in health and social care and for the past 20 years has run a business called Wolfe Improve Limited with her husband Joe.
“We've run it for over 20 years now and that's where we support health and social care services nationally, with regulation, quality and audit, organizational development, and specialist training,” says Wolfe.
Wolfe would have considered herself highly educated in the health sector and had presumed being an educated nurse that she knew about menopause until she realised, she didn’t.
“Over the past number of years, I have been blindsided really by what menopause is actually about, and the impact it has on me and has had on me over the past eight years, and also what impact it has on a woman as she ages,” she explains.
“It's not just that your periods stop, it's not just that you have symptoms in perimenopause, it's the silent issues that are underway due to change in hormones as you age and continue to age.”
“When I began to look into it I felt how come I don't know? Am I a complete fool? Have I missed some giant chunk of information I was supposed to get? And I then realised that actually, we're not told what menopause is about we're just expected to deal with it and suck it up really,” she says.
Wolfe came to the realisation that so many of us have during this experience. Why did no one tell us what to expect? Why haven’t there been conversations with older women? Why is something which can have such a profound impact on a woman’s wellbeing being hidden from those who need the information most?
“That’s not good enough, because it means we can't advocate for ourselves, and it means we're disempowered and I have a real problem with that,” says Wolfe. “I would view menopause as an equality issue, I would view it as a discrimination issue. I think it's the biggest healthcare gap facing women currently today and I just don't think it's acceptable.”
“I felt that we need to be educated, we need support and compassion and that's where Menopause Maze came from. It's an education program for employers and for employees,” she adds.
Menopause Maze supports employers in terms of policy development, and it also then supports employers in terms of educating not just females but men too. It also provides a one-to-one support for women who chose to avail of it.
Some of the more common symptoms of perimenopause (before periods stop) and menopause are hot flushes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, brain fog and itchy skin although Wolfe does press that everyone’s experience is different and there can be many more ways those missing hormones can impact you.
We’ve asked Wolfe to give us some of her top tips for those experiencing this changing time in our lives. While she is keen to point out that everyone is different and this is a lifestyle adjustment, the following tips should be implemented into our day-to-day routines.
Be informed – if you are not fully informed what perimenopause/menopause/post menopause is about you can’t put in place the strategies to optimise your health. Get proper scientific based information.
Look at your diet – look at increasing your fibre considerably – eat the rainbow, add the extra vegetables and fruit to your daily intake. Consider adding seeds like flax seeds and linseed into your diet. Increase your protein because as we age, we often tend to leave meats out of our diet – are you eating chickpeas, lentils, soy tofu? Are you taking your Omega 3s? These can be found in oily foods like avocados, fish, nuts. Good fats are important, but you need to cut the trans fast out as much as possible.
Are you drinking enough water? – if you are experiencing hot flushes and night sweats then you are going to be perspiring more so you need to be more alert to replacing that extra fluid you’re losing. We should all be drinking more water regardless.
What sort of exercise are you doing? – you should be looking at a mix of aerobic exercise, flexibility, and resistance because you need all three elements as you age. Yoga and Pilates are great for flexibility and strengthening. You don’t need to do a huge volume of exercise, in fact there are studies to suggest that is not what we should be doing as we go into our midlife. We actually should be reducing the intensity of the exercise but being consistent in doing it. Preferably exercise that will put some impact on your bones like walking, jogging and weight training because they have the added impact of strengthening and protecting your bones.
Get ahead of it – I would suggest from our 30s onwards we actually need to put in place a lifestyle plan that incorporates all those elements.