I spent my spring semester junior year studying abroad in Rome, Italy. When I returned, my parents picked me up from the airport with some concerning news. My dad was scheduled for heart surgery in a few days.
This was surprising to me for a couple of reasons. One, I thought my dad was perfectly healthy. I had never known my dad to talk about his health. My dad was a quiet guy and never complained. Even if he was suffering from a cold or the flu, he did not talk about the way he felt. I would only know he was sick by hearing his hoarse voice or seeing him constantly sneezing.
Plus, to my knowledge, my dad had never visited the doctor before. Sure, he talked about an emergency room trip when he was in a car accident as a teenager, and when I was younger, he received stitches when he cut himself working on the house. But I had never known my dad to visit a doctor for even a routine checkup. So, the fact that he not only spoke of his ill health but had initiated a visit with a doctor that wasn’t an ER trip and was now having surgery scared me. This meant his heart symptoms must have been severe.
Thankfully, my dad’s heart surgery was successful. His prognosis was good. Throughout the next several years, my dad changed his bad habits and visited the heart doctor regularly. Unfortunately, he did not continue that good behavior. By the time he was 68 years old, my dad had long stopped visiting the heart doctor. On August 28, 2002 my dad had a heart attack and died in his sleep. Sixteen years after his heart surgery.
My dad was only 68 years old when he died. I often wondered, if he had been more comfortable talking about his health and visiting the doctor, would he have lived longer? In my experience, men are more reluctant to talk about their health and visit a doctor than women. Does research back up this theory? If so, what causes the reluctance? What can I do to help my sons avoid the same fate as my dad?
Studies show that men die younger than women, and they have more illnesses throughout their lifetime than women. Men also get sick at a younger age and have more chronic illnesses than women.
Considering that data, you would think men would be motivated to visit a doctor more often than women. But that is not the case. According to a 2014 survey, men were half as likely as women to go to the doctor over a two year period. A 2019 survey found that men would prefer household chores, like cleaning the bathroom or mowing the lawn, to a doctor’s visit. Many of those who did see their doctor were not completely honest.
In fact, men often delay seeking medical attention even when they feel sick in the hope that the illness will eventually clear on its own. Of course, this delay in receiving treatment often results in serious consequences. Consequences that could have been prevented with routine medical care.
Why are some men so reluctant to visit a doctor? According to researchers, there are many factors. Men’s risk-taking nature may lead them to believe they can beat disease by toughing it out. Traditional beliefs about masculinity are another reason. Some men hold on to the misconception that seeking help makes them less masculine and powerful. In their attempt to hold on to perceptions of masculinity and power, they get into denial, which eventually increases their vulnerability to diseases.
Time and money are additional reasons for men not visiting a doctor. One study found that the time a man spends in the doctor’s waiting room is a predictor of whether he will return for checkups.
To be fair, women get plugged into the healthcare system at an early age seeing gynecologists and then just get in the routine of annual visits. Still, men have a habit of avoiding doctor visits and only attend if they have a problem that really impacts their lives.
Luckily, healthcare research is focusing on this problem and employing successful tactics to encourage men to visit the doctor regularly. One study found that workplace health promotion programs, which included health education and coaching, can improve men’s engagement with healthcare services. Another study found that reminder systems, such as phone calls, text messages, or mailed reminders, were effective in improving men’s adherence to recommended preventive care. A third study concluded that involving romantic partners in the process can increase men’s engagement in preventive health services.
How often should men go to the doctor? Much depends a lot on age and health. A general rule of thumb: men ages 18 to 39 should have their blood pressure checked every two years, but if it reaches a certain threshold, it should be checked yearly. Men ages 45 and older should be screened for diabetes every three years, but if they are overweight the screening should start at a younger age. Men over age 35 should be screened for high cholesterol and heart disease prevention every five years, but if they have diabetes, they should be screened more often. Men with no family history of colon cancer or polyps should be screened for colorectal cancer every five to ten years between the ages of 50 to 75, but the screening should start earlier if they do have a family history.
Thankfully, societal norms are changing, and men are finding the education, comfort, and encouragement they need to maintain a healthy body. Estate planning is no different. Men (and women) are finding that creating an estate plan is easier than they realized and more streamlined allowing them to successfully check estate planning off their to do list.