The drug-free approach for managing menopausal hot flushes

Many aspects of our lives and bodies change as we get older and technology can enable us to adapt and live longer and fuller lives. Cambridge Consultants was interested in exploring this further and focused on menopause as an example of age related change. We have partnered with the National Innovation Centre for Ageing, hosted at Newcastle University and Open Lab at Newcastle University’s School of Computing Science to explore women’s experience of the menopause and to propose technology-based interventions.

A series of workshops revealed that:

  • Hot flushes and night sweats can have a profound effect on women’s physical, psychological and social wellbeing
  • There is a pressing need for a new range of consumer products that can help women to better manage their symptoms
  • A drug-free consumer device with ‘cooling’ consumables loaded into it was universally well received. As a result, Cambridge Consultants created a concept product, ‘Pebal’ that puts women in control

This work forms part of Cambridge Consultants’ wider exploration of life-long health, and the technologies that will enable us to take control of our own health and wellbeing. Although a natural part of the ageing process, the menopause is still seen by many to be merely a “women’s issue”, and is a Cinderella subject, often ignored or marginalised and denied the focus of technology developers. Up to 80% of menopausal women will experience hot flushes, either during the day or at night and recurring on average for a period of seven years.

Cambridge Consultants, National Innovation Centre for Ageing and Open Lab at Newcastle University jointly held three workshops, with women attendees drawn from Cambridge Consultants and Newcastle University employees, as well as members of the public. The purpose of the workshops was to understand the impact of menopausal hot flushes, to explore how women manage their symptoms today and to establish the opportunity for ‘self-help’ technology to improve outcomes. Attendees reported that they arrived at the menopause feeling unprepared for the major impact that it would have on their lives. Hot flushes were unpredictable, arriving suddenly and having a disruptive effect in the workplace or on sleep during the night. While women employed a variety of strategies to manage these hot flushes, from drug-based approaches such as HRT to herbal remedies and cooling pillows, the over-riding sense was that the symptoms of hot flushes were difficult to manage. One woman attendee commented that “I’m irritated by the disruption this is causing to my life… I’m tired and it has had a massive impact on my quality of life.”

Cambridge Consultants presented some initial device concepts that would provide instant cooling, on-demand in order to counter hot flushes. Devices would have cooling consumables loaded into them that provided instant cold relief, as if an ice cube had been applied to the skin.

Feedback from the workshops suggested a strong demand for such devices and that rather than a discreet wrist-worn device, women preferred a single product that could be applied to a number of locations on the body, mainly the chest, face and neck. 

Building on this insight, Cambridge Consultants has created Pebal, a concept device that provides an instant cooling effect, giving discreet, on-demand relief, returning control and peace of mind to menopausal women. The approach is that when a woman feels that a hot flush is beginning, she could simply press the large button on Pebal and a small dose of a coolant is released onto the inside surface of a metal plate, creating a cold external surface that is applied to the body where desired. Pebal is visualized as being a flexible, hand-held product, designed to give women the freedom to choose where to place it. The compact design would allow women to use it in public, at home or at work, without drawing unwelcome attention. Subtle surface detailing would create a tactile and comfortable experience. This technology direction removes the requirement for charging and would mean that the device is always ready to go.

Cambridge Consultants looks forward to working with client partners to further develop products that meet the demands of menopausal women and other areas of age related change.

Michael Catt, Professor of Practice at National Innovation Centre for Ageing, Newcastle University commented, “identifying opportunities to help us all live better as we grow older is central to the National Innovation Centre for Ageing. This exploration of ideas leading to the Pebal concept, in partnership with Open Lab, offers hope to thousands of women living with menopause, and we are delighted to have supported Cambridge Consultants in this exploration. We look forward to future collaborations that contribute to enabling improved health and wellbeing throughout life.”

Nicola Millar, Senior Programme Lead for Lifelong Health at Cambridge Consultants, added that “Pebal is merely the beginning. We’re seeking a deeper understanding of the ageing process, listening to what can really help improve people’s lives and supporting self-directed management of our health. Lifelong health is about supporting people in making the right life choices in order to maximise their chances of staying healthy for longer and we’re committed to further exploration of the products and services that can support us through age-related change.” 

To download the full report from our series of workshops, visit: cambridgeconsultants.com/menopause

Notes to editors

Cambridge Consultants develops breakthrough products, creates and licenses intellectual property, and provides business consultancy in technology-critical issues for clients worldwide. For more than 50 years, the company has been helping its clients turn business opportunities into commercial successes, whether they are launching first-to-market products, entering new markets or expanding existing markets through the introduction of new technologies. With a team of more than 800 staff, including engineers, scientists, mathematicians and designers, in offices in Cambridge (UK), Boston (USA) and Singapore, Cambridge Consultants offers solutions across a diverse range of industries including medical technology, industrial and consumer products, digital health, energy and wireless communications. For more information, visit: www.CambridgeConsultants.com

Cambridge Consultants is part of Altran, a global leader in engineering and R&D services which offers its clients a new way to innovate. Altran works alongside its clients on every link in the value chain of their project, from conception to industrialisation. In 2015, the Altran group generated revenues of €1.945bn. With a headcount of more than 27,000 employees, Altran is present in more than 20 countries. For more information, visit: www.altran.com

National Innovation Centre for Ageing. Set up in 2014, the National Innovation Centre for Ageing is a world-leading organisation, created with a £40 million investment from UK Government and Newcastle University. Our vision is to create a world in which we all live better, for longer by leading on innovations that improve all aspects of life for our ageing societies. The National Innovation Centre for Ageing will work collaboratively and provide a dynamic environment within which multiple stakeholders can come together to share knowledge, ideas, experience and innovation. By bringing together world-leading scientists with industry, health and care providers and the public, the National Innovation Centre for Ageing will help co-design, develop, test and bring to market products and services, which enhance and improve quality of life as we age.

Open Lab. Open Lab is a human-computer interaction, social and ubiquitous computing research group in the School of Computing at Newcastle University. The academics, post-doctoral researchers and PhD students who make up the group come from a wide range of academic disciplines, including computer science, electrical engineering, fine arts, psychology, sociology, education, clinical sciences and design. We have a particular expertise in the configuration and conduct of cross-disciplinary research and application of digital technologies to real-world problems ranging from health and social care, to the creative industries, education and local democracy. At the heart of all our research, though, is a commitment to the experience-centred and participatory design of digital technologies that enhance rather than diminish our experience of the world.

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