Caring for Women in Prison: Menopause and Osteoporosis

Old Lady's hands open - My mother at 90 years old

Hazel is a diminutive 56 year old state prisoner serving a life sentence for murder. She has been incarcerated for 18 years now and recently fell on the icy path while heading from her housing unit to breakfast early one morning. She sustained Colles fractures of both wrists. While being treated for the fractures she was also diagnosed with advanced osteoporosis.

Not all women in prison are dealing with pregnancy and reproductive health issues. The aging of the inmate population means that an increasing number of female inmates need assistance with menopause symptoms and protection from osteoporosis. Managing these conditions in the criminal justice system may require creativity and a bit of patient advocacy. Here are some key concerns with possible nursing interventions:

  • Nutrition: Hazel has been eating prison food for more than a decade. Unfortunately, most prison are challenged to provide a calcium-rich diet. Hazel needs counselling on the best options in both the cafeteria and commissary menus to increase her vitamin D and calcium intake. Supplementation may be necessary.
  • Exercise: Weight bearing exercise may not be convenient or even available. Hazel appears to be walking to various inmate activities; and that is a good start. She could benefit from support in developing an exercise program based on the prison gym and yard schedule. An in-cell exercise routine can also be established and encouraged.
  • Dry, Fragile Skin: Lack of estrogen dries out skin and eyes which can lead to discomfort, breakdown, and infection. Saline eye drops and therapeutic lotions may be needed and possibly provided through the healthcare unit or placed on the commissary list.
  • Body Temperature Fluctuations: Many prisons are not well ventilated in summer or heated in winter. Menopausal women may need layers of clothing for increased comfort.
  • Lack of Sleep: Sleep is a difficult commodity in many prisons and menopausal women with insomnia or hot flashes may have even more trouble obtaining rest. Correctional nurses can help patients establish good sleep hygiene habits and possibly provide natural sleeping aids such as melatonin through the commissary.

Do you have menopausal or osteoporotic inmates at your facility? How are you helping them to manage their condition while incarcerated? Share your tips in the comments section of this post.

To read more about the unique aspects of women’s health care in the correctional setting see Chapter 9 in the Essentials of Correctional Nursing. The text can be ordered directly from the publisher and if you use Promo Code AF1209 the price is discounted by $15 and shipping is free.

Photo Credit: © Fenton –

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