Father’s Day is more than just a time to celebrate dads. It’s also the final day of Men’s Health Week, part of June’s Men’s Health Month initiative, and focuses on prevention, early detection, and early treatment. Because healthcare professionals want their patients as well as their own fathers to live long and healthy lives, this month is a reminder for awareness. Those who take the time to understand how disorders and diseases affect men become important partners in a national effort to improve the well-being of our dads.
Although senior men and women share the same vulnerability to most illnesses and disorders, including chronic diseases and age-related health problems, there are, of course, some gender differences. Men also face health challenges unique to their masculinity. This demographic is less likely to seek medical attention and more reluctant to discuss health issues. In fact, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, men are 24 percent less likely than women to visit a doctor within the span of a year. Clinicians who encounter male patients resistive to medical evaluation and treatment can use Men’s Health Month as a time to empower them, dispelling misinformation and helping them overcome their fears.
Men and Chronic Disease
Most chronic diseases are preventable, yet they comprise seven of the 10 leading causes of death, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In many cases, prevention for this population is limited to controlling symptoms and working to prevent diseases from worsening. For others, prevention efforts may be able to ward off a disease entirely.
Heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and cancer are among the most prevalent chronic diseases. Prevention efforts are critical, including against obesity, a leading risk factor for these conditions.
While heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, the CDC reports that “more than half of the deaths due to heart disease in 2009 were men” and that heart disease causes every one in four male deaths. Older men who smoke, have a family history of heart disease, or who’ve had a previous heart attack are especially at risk.
Taking the time during Men’s Health Month to mention a few facts about the disease and its impact could stimulate patient action. Equally effective is to offer a few helpful tips on proactively pursuing a heart-healthy lifestyle. Encourage your senior patients to eat a heart-healthy diet, to exercise moderately but routinely, and to quit smoking. Your patients have probably heard this before, but hearing it from different sources, whether you or someone else, can have a cumulative effect.
Another subject to raise during Men’s Health Month is the importance of diabetes prevention and control. While 21 million Americans are diagnosed with the disease, another estimated eight million live with it undiagnosed, according to the CDC.
Diabetes affects men and women differently. Men are more likely to lose limbs to amputation from diabetes complications, according to the American Diabetes Association, and the disease is associated with obstructive sleep apnea, a more common condition among men. Erectile dysfunction is also associated with diabetes, and the disease can increase a senior’s risk for falls.
Men should thus have plenty of motivation to prevent or properly treat diabetes. Those presenting with any of its signs — including combinations of excessive thirst and hunger, blurred vision, frequent urination, fatigue, dry mouth, and headaches — should aggressively seek further evaluation.
According to the American Diabetes Association, men have historically not been as comfortable talking about their diabetes as women. A lack of disease education may cause them to misunderstand its risks and complications. They may also fear lifestyle changes, such as the belief that they’ll need to give themselves injections. The vast majority of those with the disease control it with oral medications, however.
The Framingham Heart Study, a major research project, found that women are more likely to suffer a stroke than men, as well as its resulting complications. Stroke is still a leading cause of death in men, however, and it can affect them differently than women. For example, men between the ages of 45 and 75 are more likely to suffer a stroke than women, but women older than 75 are more likely to experience a stroke than men. Also, aspirin has been found to help prevent stroke in women but is less likely to help men.
The CDC notes that half of Americans have hypertension, high cholesterol, and/or smoke, which are all major contributors to stroke. And nearly all result from an unhealthy lifestyle. Your patients probably know that certain choices could be bad for them, but they may not understand how badly or how to change a lifestyle decades in the making. Practitioners aware of resources to help seniors learn to live healthier lives are themselves a resource for those who want to learn more.
When counseling patients on recognizing the signs of stroke, the most important point to emphasize is that a sudden onset is the best clue. Indicators of stroke include headaches, dizziness, and loss of balance and falls; numbness on one side of the body; and confusion and speech difficulties occurring without warning. Early intervention during an acute stroke episode can limit potential neurological damage.
Some cancers can strike men and women equally, while others are more prevalent or unique among men. For example, skin, lung, and colon cancers threaten men more than women, according to the American Cancer Society, and prostate cancer is exclusive to males. These cancers can be especially dangerous if they don’t manifest symptoms until the disease is well advanced, so it’s important to screen for them and treat them as early as possible.
As with other diseases, cancer detection and prevention should be focused on year round, but Men’s Health Month is an especially good time of year to offer helpful information on this subject. Routine skin and mole checks and reduced sun exposure, for instance, can prevent many skin cancers from becoming problematic. The American Cancer Society also recommends that men between the ages of 55 and 74 who have a 30 pack-year history of smoking (one pack each day for 30 years, or two packs a day for 15 years) pursue a low-dose CT scan of their lungs. This screening is especially important for those with a family history of lung cancer.
Colon cancer can be detected and treated through routine blood tests and colonoscopy exams. Some men may not feel comfortable with the idea of a colonoscopy to the extent they avoid the procedure. Be sure your male patients know the risks of avoidance, however, as well as ways to prevent this cancer. Becoming more active and eating a healthy diet not only helps lower the risk of cancer, but it can strengthen the body’s ability to fight it, too.
The Aging Male
As men age, their bodies undergo the normal changes associated with aging, but they may also become more susceptible to certain diseases. For example, skin disorders are more common in older adults, and some skin diseases, such as atopic dermatitis and psoriasis, are more common in men. Certain health problems may be exacerbated in older men who smoke, are overweight, or who live sedentary lifestyles.
Healthy sleep is as good for the body as exercise and a nutritious diet. Adults need seven to eight hours of restive sleep each night to function well during the day, but unfortunately, many men don’t get enough or the proper kind of sleep. Additionally, obstructive sleep apnea is more common among men. Apnea can repeatedly awaken a person, preventing him from going through the necessary cycles of sleep. Ensuing daytime fatigue puts those with sleep apnea at greater risk for falls and other accidents.
Dental insurance can be expensive, causing some seniors to opt out of treatments or seek cheap alternatives. However, nearly a quarter of American seniors over the age of 60 are toothless, according to the CDC, which is primarily due to periodontal disease. Other risks of poor dental health include inflamed tissues and cancer.
Another senior dental health issue is poor-fitting dentures, which can impact older adults’ well-being in a variety of ways: damage to the mouth, chewing and swallowing difficulties, and loss of sleep. On top of that, altered taste from medications and dry or burning mouth syndrome can diminish a senior’s appetite. Routine dental care is the best preventive against these issues.
Older men often experience a reduction in or complete loss of one or more senses. Hearing loss, in particular, is more common among men. Seniors with sensory deprivation are at much higher risk for injuries from falls and other mishaps such as medication misuse. Some senior men with sensory deprivation may be tempted to isolate themselves, which could lead to further complications. If you are concerned about your patient spending a lot of time alone, you may want to recommend the installation of a medical alert device if he is at risk for falls as well as encourage him to seek out opportunities for socialization.
There are three types of urinary incontinence: stress, urge, and overflow. Some senior men may have any combination of the three, but in most cases, incontinence is a treatable disorder. Nerve damage and prostate trauma are the primary causes of urinary incontinence among men. Bladder and behavioral changes can improve bladder control in some men, while others may require surgery. Odor control products and padded underwear may help your patients overcome some of the embarrassment associated with these conditions.
For Men Only
Some conditions specific to men, namely erectile dysfunction and prostate disorders, are associated with such risk factors as obesity as well as with age. These conditions may be embarrassing for your patients to discuss, but Men’s Health Month is a great time to provide information about them.
More than 30 million American men are affected by erectile dysfunction, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. The incidence of this condition increases with age; by age 75, nearly half of American men experience it. Erectile dysfunction is one of the most difficult health issues for men to discuss, but addressing it with medication or psychotherapy treatments has helped many restore their function.
The prostate’s sole role is a reproductive one, yet this walnut-sized organ can become problematic. For example, hormonal changes can cause an older man’s prostate to swell, a condition called benign prostatic hyperplasia. One of the symptoms of this condition is a frequent need to urinate, which may disrupt sleep.
Prostitis, a painful inflammation that can be caused by bacterial infection, may be either acute or chronic. Reassure your male patients that they are not alone. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 25 percent of men who tell their doctor about a urological issue show symptoms of the condition.
Prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer among men in the US, affecting roughly one in seven men, according to the Prostate Cancer Foundation. The risk of this cancer increases with age: two-thirds of men with prostate cancer are over age 65.
The front-line effort against prostate cancer, which can grow slowly or aggressively, is early detection. While some men may not like subjecting themselves to a quick manual exam, they should understand that it can save lives. Prostate cancer may be treated with a combination of medications, radiation, and surgery.
Men’s Health Month and Father’s Day coincide for good reason: a reminder to fathers of how important their health is. Those with loving connections to a father figure should be given information as well. By knowing where to refer your patients and their caregivers for further help or by simply offering encouragement, healthcare professionals can support their efforts to love dad and keep him healthy.