The next time you’re at the doctor’s office, look around. Notice anything? Surveys show that only 2 in 5 men go to the doctor when they fear they have a serious medical condition.
If you’re worried about your dad’s health, starting a conversation could encourage him to pay attention to his health as he ages, says Marty Sawyer, Resident Care Director at The Ivy at Ellington.
Why Men Avoid the Doctor
It’s not that men just avoid the doctor — they don’t even like to talk about their health. A survey by Cleveland Clinic found that men are much more likely to discuss current events, sports, and their job than they are their health.
Why? Another survey found that the top excuse men make to avoid scheduling annual appointments is that they are too busy. The second most common excuse is that they are afraid of finding out something might be wrong with them.
But that’s exactly why they should be going to the doctor.
“Prevention is paramount for a man’s health,” said Eric Klein, Chair of Cleveland Clinic’s Glickman Urological & Kidney Institute. “Knowing the facts, being proactive, and taking advantage of the numerous advancements in healthcare today can make a big difference in a man’s life.”
How to Talk to Your Dad
Men like to keep their health problems close to home, so you’re in a good position to start a conversation with your dad. Here are five tips for how to best approach the topic.
1. Start Early
As an advocate for your parents, you want to ensure the best life possible for them as they age, which requires starting these conversations sooner rather than later — like when your dad starts to have more medical appointments.
“You might just ask if you can go to the doctor with them,” Sawyer suggests.
Make it clear that you’re coming from a place of love and that you’re bringing up the issue because you want to be a resource.
2. But Go Slow
Ideally, you’ve started these conversations before there is a crisis. If so, ask your dad if he has any concerns about his health. Maybe he’s on some new medications and struggling to keep track of them all.
“You could say something like, ‘Dad, how about if we work together and put all your medications on a piece of paper so that when you go see a doctor, you can hand him the paper and it’s easier for you,” Sawyer says. “If he says, ‘It’s none of your business,’ come back to the topic some other time. It’s not going to happen in one day.”
3. Let Him Be in Control
Independence is sometimes the only thing seniors may feel they can control as certain aspects of their lives change as they age.
“So the things you can let him have control over, let him have control over it,” Sawyer says.
Accept that your dad is able to make his own health care decisions.
4. But Don’t Wait Until There Is a Crisis
If you wait too long to start the initial conversations, however, things get trickier. “Now you maybe need to say: ‘I’m a little concerned about your health. How are you feeling?’” Sawyer says.
“If you don't have that type of relationship with your parents, when you do get involved, it’s going to be when there’s a crisis,” she says. “Then you’ll have too much to do. Plus, then you're dealing with emotions related to the event. You're dealing with guilt. Your loved one might not be receptive.”
If that’s the case, seek help from another trusted loved one. The Cleveland Clinic survey found that males tend to turn to their spouse or significant other first to discuss a health issue. Your dad might be more willing to listen to your mom, a family friend, or a clergy member.
5. Develop Resources in Town
If you are a long-distance caregiver who is concerned for your dad’s well-being, you might need to plan on spending a week in town, reconnecting with your dad, learning about his doctor, and developing resources in town.
“You have to re-establish that relationship with your parents,” Sawyer says. “They've been learning to cope without things, so they’ll have crutches and excuses to cover up. If you're there for a week, you’re more likely to catch some stuff.”
Remember that change isn’t likely to happen overnight, but it’s better to start sooner rather than later. If you’re considering assisted living for your dad, his doctor can lay the same groundwork, explaining what seems to be wrong and suggesting options for fixing it, without risking a strained relationship.