Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Hey Paul Studios.

Too often, the unique health issues of aging women are overlooked. An estimated five million women are of menopausal age in Canada. As the population ages, the need for specialized care will continue to grow.

To address the challenge, the Mount Sinai’s Mature Women’s Health Program in Toronto is celebrating a $2 million dollar funding milestone, which will be used to fund fellows for research, not only in Toronto, but also internationally. Established in 2000, the program was the first of its kind in the country and offers the only Premature Ovarian Failure Clinic in Canada (and one of the few in the world). The program continues to evolve to answer specific healthcare needs of women.

With life expectancy nearly doubling over the last century, the average Canadian woman will reach menopause half way through her life. The hospital’s program provides care for a large number of conditions that effect women as they age, including severe menopause symptoms, vulvar disorders, hot flashes, pelvic pain, sexual dysfunction or other symptoms due to underlying medical conditions. These are often accompanied by weight gain, increased risk of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis.

“Many women face difficulty during menopause and this often hits women at the peak of their careers,” says Dr. Wendy Wolfman, who leads Mount Sinai Hospital’s Mature Women’s Health Program. “It has been hard on women to seek adequate help for these symptoms and feel validated.”

Launching a women-focused health initiative

The establishment of Dr. Wolfman as inaugural holder of the Chair in Mature Women’s Health was the brainchild of Carol Mitchell, CEO and portfolio manager of iMaGiNe Wealth Management, a small hedge fund. As a professional woman on Toronto’s Bay Street for 30 years, Mitchell met a vast number of midlife women and began to see a pattern in the stories they shared about their lives.

Mitchell, who holds a degree in physical education as well as an MBA, has always been interested in women’s health issues. She heard about Dr. Wolfman, also a Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Toronto. The two women talked, and Mitchell decided to create a Chair with a goal to destigmatize menopause. The Chair consists of an endowment, with an initial target of $3 million.

That will help shift the conversation and address the unique needs of women as they age. Unfortunately, the majority of clinical trials and research studies that look at these issues use male subjects, making the data gathered not always applicable to opposite sex. Women often respond differently to illness and treatment. It’s time to put their health in the spotlight.