The tech helping women manage the menopause

  • Published
Debbie DickinsonImage source, Thermaband
Image caption,

Debbie Dickinson, pictured here wearing a Thermaband bracelet, runs the business with her daughter

It was in 2019 when Debbie Dickinson experienced her first hot flush.

"I was at home and felt very puzzled," says the 55-year-old. "I didn't know what was going on in my body.

"But then I had an ah-ha moment and realised something major was happening." That something was the menopause.

It prompted Debbie, who lives in Miami, Florida, to speak to older female relatives for advice on how to best cope with the symptoms that occur both before and when a woman's periods stop. The later typically takes place around the age of 51.

What is the menopause and what are the signs?

Meanwhile, Debbie started to try lots of DIY ways to manage, including opening her freezer and standing right in front of it.

Despite getting helpful guidance, she says she felt unprepared for this stage of her life.

"There's so little understanding and education about the menopause. A lot of this is down to stigma and ageism, when actually it's just very natural."

It was after experiencing a hot flush in her car later that same year that Debbie had the idea for a portable device that could keep women cool.

A former executive for healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson, she had numerous contacts in the sector. So able to raise $1.5m (£1.3m) in investment, she worked with a team of engineers, scientists and doctors to produce a wristband and connected app called Thermaband.

The bracelet is powered by artificial intelligence software that monitors the wearer's temperature, and when it detects a hot flush it can deliver a cooling sensation. Alternatively, it can also provide heat, if required.

New Tech Economy is a series exploring how technological innovation is set to shape the new emerging economic landscape.

The wristband also tracks blood pressure and heart rate, with all the data displayed on the app. With Debbie's daughter Markea also helping to lead the company, the Thermaband is now due to go on sale this year.

After years of widespread ignorance, there's now more awareness and conversation about the menopause than ever before. In the UK this has been helped by high-profile campaigners such as TV presenter Davina McCall, who presented a Channel Four show on the subject in 2021.

Meanwhile, Conservative MP Caroline Nokes has led a campaign for women going through the menopause to be able to take time off work. However, in January the UK government rejected a proposed pilot scheme for England.

While women who think they are suffering from menopause symptoms should in the first instance see their doctor, the increased coverage that the issue is getting is leading to a growing number of tech firms entering the sector. These companies, often female-led, are introducing new products that offer help and support.

It comes as the wider menopause support sector, which also includes hormonal treatment and dietary supplements, is expected to soar globally, external to $24.4bn in 2030, from $16.9bn this year.

Monika Scott, 46, an operations manager at a property firm, has been using UK digital health app Peppy, which includes support for women going through the menopause, for a couple of years as she navigates her symptoms.

Image source, Monika Scott
Image caption,

Monika Scott uses the app Peppy to help her deal with her symptoms

"One major issue for me is not sleeping, which is frustrating," says the Londoner. "I'd wake up feeling tired and grouchy.

"I also experience dry skin and super heavy periods. My sister had a difficult time with the menopause and so when I saw Peppy, I thought I'd take a look."

The app enables users to have one-to-one video or chat consultations with a menopause expert, sign up to courses, access on-demand videos, and take part in live events.

GP and menopause expert Dr Phillipa Kay believes most of the tech coming through is helping empower women.

"When it comes to information, if it's good and verified then that's great. Information is power," she says. "Apps that track symptoms can be useful as people aren't always aware of all the potential symptoms, and it helps connect the dots for people.

"But we do have to be cautious, as the menopause is trendy right now, and people have been making money out of women's health for a long time. If people want to know they're receiving good verified evidence, they can get that from NHS website."

Andrea Berchowitz, co-founder of another UK menopause app, Stella, says she noticed a gap in the menopause market when she was looking to start a business in women's health. "Tech in women's health is still mainly centred about fertility and period tracking," she says.

Image source, Kathryn Chapman
Image caption,

Andrea Berchowitz says that women shouldn't have to pay for menopause support

Stella, she says, offers personalised treatment plans, combined with weekly guidance to address specific symptoms, and help facilitating conversations about hormone therapy (HRT).

Andrea says that specifically tailored support is vital because "women have different symptoms". She adds: "Someone might experience difficulty sleeping, another might need a different approach if they have low mood and incontinence".

London-based Stella, which launched in 2021, is focusing on partnering with companies so that they offer its app as part of their HR policy.

"It is for everyone, but we are focused on workplaces," says Andrea. "Women shouldn't have to pay extra for this support, we are finding workplaces want to offer support."

Companies signed up so far include clothing brand Barbour, and Betterspace and Heka, which are both websites that allow firms to offer their staff health and wellbeing resources.

Image source, Stella
Image caption,

Stella is hoping that more companies will offer its app for free to their female employees

Andrea adds that Stella is now looking to increase the level of AI software that powers its app, so it can better establish "what combination of treatments could work for specific symptoms".

Tech start-ups such as these come as a growing number of large UK companies and organisations have introduced menopause policies in recent years.

For example both the Royal Mail and supermarket giant Tesco offer menopause training, and the latter last year changed its uniform to incorporate a lightweight, more breathable fabric, external to help with hot flushes. Meanwhile, the Co-Op has a dedicated menopause support guide.

Back in Miami, Debbie says the wristband is making a real difference to her own life. "It alleviates discomfort, and makes the symptoms feel shorter and less intense. It's just a more comfortable experience to navigate."