Do the men in your life refuse to ask for directions if they get lost? It’s an old stereotype. Nowadays, they likely don’t have to; they can use a GPS to help them get back on the right road.
But what if their health starts to go off track?
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, many men need to pay more attention to their health. It may seem like an over-generalization, but compared to women, men are more likely to smoke, drink, make unhealthy or risky choices, or put off regular checkups or medical care.
To address health issues that may arise, both women and men should have regular visits with their healthcare providers. So if a man in your life – whether husband or son, father or friend – is reluctant to keep up with their healthcare appointments, is there anything that can be done to help? And how can one avoid being – or feeling like – a nag?
Understanding the reluctance
According to a recent Orlando Health survey, the top three reasons men give for not scheduling regular doctor visits are:
- They are too busy.
- They are afraid they might find out they have a problem.
- They don’t want to be examined (e.g., prostate exam).
Some men who use these or other excuses to avoid seeing a doctor may be compromising their health. Many find it hard to face fears, discomfort or dependency. Their tough-it-out attitude may be a strength they personally value, but it might also put their health at risk.
Historically, men have not been as comfortable as women when it comes to discussing health issues. According to the American Diabetes Association, the top reason men don’t talk about or take better care of their health – regardless of their race or ethnic background – is the fear of receiving bad news. In general, the Association says, men don’t like to hear that they are sick because they don’t want to show vulnerability.
Unfortunately, approximately 3 out of 4 men (74%) are obese or overweight, which puts them at risk for type 2 diabetes or other conditions. More than 1 in 3 adult males lives with some form of heart disease. Although diabetes rates are similar in men and women, men are more than twice as likely to have undiagnosed diabetes.
Validate their fears
Where can you start? According to Wendy Satin Rapaport, PhD, a therapist who works with clients who avoid going to doctors, the first step to take is to validate their feelings. Each objection listed above may be reasonable from their perspective. So let your loved one know that you understand how he may feel:
- “Yes, it may be hard to find time to go to the doctor.”
- “We all may feel afraid to get bad news.”
- “Being examined may feel awkward and embarrassing.”
Use their motivation
Laura Putnam, author of Workplace Wellness that Works and Chair of the American Heart Association’s Greater Bay Area 2020 Task Force, finds that people are motivated by personal goals, such as the desire to dance at a daughter’s wedding. Ask your loved one to name something he would love to do in the future. Support his answer and share how being healthy is one way to transform that dream into a reality: “You are right. Think how wonderful it would be to be able to visit several U.S. National Parks when you retire!”
If your loved one might relate to a car-focused metaphor, try this one from Dr. Jamin Brahmbhatt, who, along with Dr. Sijo Parekattil, drive across America each year to promote men’s health: “You know you’re supposed to get your oil changed, battery changed, belts replaced. You do it because you want the full 100,000 miles on your car. Your body is exactly the same. If you see or feel something that concerns you, you should go get it checked out.”
Experts who work with the American Diabetes Association recommend that men find a health care provider they trust, someone they feel comfortable talking to. In addition to a doctor, they may find a friend or family member who can help them adopt healthy behaviors, such as an exercise partner.
Less effective messages
I would recommend steering clear of fear-based messages; they may be poor motivators. For example, I wouldn’t say, “If you don’t see your doctor, you’ll have a heart attack like your father!”
Fear messages may cause loved ones to be even more resistant. Think of the warning that appears on cigarette packages. Kelly M. McGonigal, a Stanford psychologist, found that these fear messages help keep non-smokers from starting, but may prompt many smokers to become so uneasy that they light up a cigarette to calm themselves down.
You’re not alone
It may sometimes feel as though you’re the only one trying to motivate your loved ones to stay on track. But healthcare advocacy organizations are aware of the disparity in men’s health outcomes, and many have created their own programs and resources to address the issue. Like the Drive for Men’s Health movement, the American Diabetes Association has an initiative for men. It encourages all men living with diabetes to take their “modern man’s challenge”: to get out, to get active, and to get informed. They also encourage men – and women – to take an online diabetes risk test.
Janis Roszler, MS, RD, LD/N, CDE*, FAND, is the American Association of Diabetes Educators 2008-09 Diabetes Educator of the Year. She is a registered dietitian, Certified Diabetes Educator, and marriage and family therapist. Her books include Sex and Diabetes, The Secrets of Living and Loving with Diabetes and, co-authored with Wendy Satin Rapaport, PhD, Approaches to Behavior: Changing the Dynamic Between Patients and Professionals in Diabetes Education. Roszler is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.
© 2016 The DX: The Diabetes Experience