Dementia & The Myth of Menstruation

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I have never written about this before, but it’s always been something that has interested me. 

Most of the women that get dementia have already gone through menopause. This is a very good thing. When working in care communities, I have often found myself thinking, “Thankfully this woman doesn’t also have to deal with getting her period,” when helping older women get cleaned up and dressed. I cannot imagine that, on top of dealing with incontinence issues, women would also be dealing with getting their periods and having dementia at the same time.

Interestingly, it is also not uncommon for women with dementia to talk about, or think that they have, their periods.

One resident I had, Shirley, was very concerned about getting her period. She believed that she was a lot younger than she actually was. She also often mistook her stomach pains for menstrual cramps. 

Shirley had this habit of stuffing things in her pants. She’d put rags, dish towels, paper towels, and nearly anything else she wanted, into her pants. What we came to realize was that she was doing this because she thought she had her period. It was a protective measure: a way to deal with her period when she didn’t have a pad or tampon available. 

Shirley wasn’t the first or last female resident I had who complained of period cramps. This makes a ton of sense, though. These women spent a good deal of their lives getting their periods each month, and now, dementia has made them think they are back to getting them. 

Evolution gives us gifts, though, because, without menopause, dementia would be a whole lot more complicated. 

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Rachael Wonderlin has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. She owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting company.

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