When our book, “Is it hot in here? Or is it me? The Complete Guide to Menopause” ( Workman ), was released a few weeks ago, “The Today Show” invited us on to talk about the topic and put together a “menopause survival kit.” After the show ran, we got lots of e-mails asking for a list of the contents. While this “kit” is not all-inclusive, these items will help you weather the menopause transition more successfully. Here’s a breakdown of our purchases:
Face wipes. Stow these in your purse or desk drawer. They’re great for mopping up after a sweaty hot flash.
Water bottle. Drinking some ice water helps many women reduce the severity of hot flashes. Keep it handy.
Nightwear made of fabric that wicks away moisture. We have a friend who sleeps in a flannel nightgown and then complains of night sweats. A simple solution is to buy T-shirts or sleepwear made of wicking fabric. That way, you won’t feel so cold and clammy. Look for the same fabric you see in athletic wear.
Cream moisturizer. During the menopause transition, just about every inch of your skin gets dryer. To keep leg dandruff at bay, consider switching from lotions (which usually contain drying alcohol) to cream moisturizers for longer-lasting results. Try some of the inexpensive tubs at your local drug store. They’re often as good as the expensive stuff, and you can afford to slather it on. We particularly like products that are hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic (so they don’t block pores).
Vaginal moisturizer. When we say everything gets dryer, we mean everything. Stick to products designed for the vaginal area; they have a special adhesive quality to make the moist feeling last longer. If the problem continues, talk to your doctor about a vaginal estrogen. If you still have a uterus, make sure you discuss whether you need to add a progestogen as well.
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Lubricant. If you don’t produce as much natural lubrication when sexually aroused as you did when you were younger, it’s not a sign that you no longer find your partner attractive. It happens to everyone at midlife. Luckily, there are lots of commercial products to choose from, but make sure you purchase one that’s water-based. (Oil-based lubricants can make diaphragms and condoms less reliable.)
Artificial tears. Continuing with the “drying” theme, many women experience dry eyes around the menopause transition. This time, it appears the hormone to blame is testosterone, which has an effect on the watery and oily layers of your tears. Avoiding air conditioning, blow dryers and long hours at the computer can help. So will artificial tears. While those with preservatives have a longer shelf life and are cheaper, those without preservatives tend to be less irritating.
Reading glasses or a magnifying glass. The type in the newspaper isn’t shrinking, but it often seems that way to midlife women (and men, too). The focusing problem you’re having is called presbyopia. While it often becomes noticeable during the menopause transition, it has nothing to do with hormones. It occurs as the clear lens of your eye becomes less flexible as you age. Reading glasses help; so does a magnifying glass.
Brighter light bulbs. You may also be having a harder time reading a page of written text. Again, this has nothing to do with hormones. It happens because the clear lens of your eye is starting to turn yellow as you age. Pick up some brighter light bulbs for your reading lamp.
Tweezers. At midlife, some women find dark hair sprouting in unfamiliar places like the upper lip, the chin or the cheek area. If it’s just a few hairs, it could be a sign of fluctuating hormones even if you’re still menstruating. Tweezers will do the trick. You might also invest in a high-magnification mirror to make the job a little easier. If the problem is more extensive, you should check with your doctor. You might be suffering from a more serious hormone imbalance.
Calcium and vitamin D. During the menopause transition, women can lose 10 to 20 percent or more of their bone density. This is no time to short-change your body of calcium and vitamin D. If you’re 50 or older, aim for 1,200 milligrams a day. Postmenopausal women not taking hormone therapy should aim for 1,500 milligrams a day. If you’re not getting enough through your diet, consider a calcium supplement, but keep in mind that the body can only absorb about 500 milligrams at a time. And don’t forget the vitamin D, which helps the body maintain normal levels of calcium and phosphorus. While women 50 and under need 200 International Units (IUs) a day, the recommended amount increases to 400 IUs for those 51 and older. At 71, it rises to 600 IUs. Women with osteoporosis are usually urged to take 800 IUs, and there are some researchers who are urging new standards of 1,000 IUs a day for everyone.
Shoe pads. One of the inequities of midlife is that while some parts of your body get fatter, others lose cushioning. The fat pads on the balls of your feet deteriorate, as you get older. Inexpensive cushions that you buy in the drug store can help quite a bit.
Post-It notes. Ever find yourself at the grocery without a clue as to why you came? It’s not an early sign of dementia. It might be due to a number of things like stress or fatigue, but hormone changes could also be to blame. While these lapses can be embarrassing, studies indicate that for most women, they’re less significant than they seem. Midlife women who were repeatedly tested over several years saw their cognitive scores increase over time, not fall. To help you feel more in control of your memory, use Post-It notes to remind you of upcoming tasks. Other tips: set the alarm on your cell phone to ring before appointments and keep a notebook in your purse for to-do lists.
Hand weights. We keep these on our desks at work. You know you need to increase your activity level, but sometimes it’s hard to find the time. We try to do a little weight-lifting at work in between phone calls.
Pedometer. This is another tool to help fit more physical activity into your regular routine. Pedometers are pretty inexpensive (you can easily buy one for about $20) and they’ll help you keep track of how many steps you take during the day. Your goal should be at least 10,000. Clip the pedometer to your waist in the morning and keep it on all day. We do this, and find it encourages us to take a 15- or 20-minute walk at lunch and other relatively short walks during the day so we reach our goal.