It’s not hard to notice and statistics confirm it: Women tend to live longer than men. U.S. Census data show that while the ratio of males to females is close to 50:50 among younger adults, after age 65, the numbers diverge until there are only half as many men as women among people 80 and older. More than 80% of centenarians are women.
The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that although gender-based health initiatives often focus on women, men in almost every country have a shorter life expectancy. “In many societies, men generally enjoy more opportunities, privileges and power than women, yet these multiple advantages do not translate into better health outcomes,” said the WHO experts.
What explains this seeming paradox? It is most likely a combination of factors:
- Biology. Gender-related differences in genes, hormones and the immune system make men more susceptible to inflammation, heart disease and high blood pressure.
- Behavior. Men are more likely to smoke, drink alcohol unsafely, and take part in other risky behaviors. Traditional male occupations also are more hazardous.
- Social interaction. Loneliness raises the risk of stress and early death. Michigan State University experts note that traditional attitudes held by many older men can stand in the way of good health. “The belief that ‘real men’ must be strong, tough and independent may be a detriment to their social needs later in life,” they said.
- Attitudes about healthcare. Men are less likely than women to have regular doctor visits. While studies show this attitude is changing among younger men, many older men still avoid making appointments.
Of note today: Public health experts say that while men and women are equally likely to be infected by the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, men are more likely to become seriously ill and to die. Most likely the four factors above all come into play.
Talking to men about health matters
Encourage the older men in your life to make healthy lifestyle choices, such as eating well, giving up smoking, getting enough exercise and managing stress. And talk about healthcare, too:
- Ask them how long it’s been since they saw a doctor. Remind them that regular healthcare appointments can preserve their independence and self-sufficiency—and can save them money in the long run. Their care should include regular checkups, referrals to specialists as needed, and regular dental care.
- Encourage them to be candid with healthcare providers. Research shows that many male patients underplay health problems during conversations with their doctor. They might say a symptom “isn’t too bad.” They might not mention new health concerns, or report that they’ve experienced falls. Remind them they are partners with their doctor, joining forces to take charge and make good decisions.
- Prompt them to have the recommended screenings. For older men, this might include regular tests of blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar; screenings for prostate, colorectal and skin cancer; and vision and hearing tests. And even though many people think of osteoporosis as a “woman’s disease,” men also should be screened for bone density.
- Remind them to keep vaccines up to date. In most areas, older adults are at the top of the list for the COVID-19 vaccine, and they should get it when they can. They also should receive their annual flu shot and vaccines for shingles, pneumococcal pneumonia, tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis and other diseases as recommended by their doctor.
- Discuss emotional health, as well. Many men are reticent to report they’re experiencing stress, depression, or suicidal thoughts. Help is available and it’s not a sign of weakness to access that help! Addressing smoking or alcohol or drug misuse also is a sign of strength. Doctors can’t force patients to alter those behaviors, but they can offer advice and options.
Care support at home for older men
Most senior men prefer to age in place in their own homes, but health challenges may make that unsafe without assistance. They may avoid asking for help from family members—or they might require a lot of help, and feel bad about it. Today, many families are finding that the dignity, independence and safety of their older male relatives are enhanced when care is provided by a professional.
Professional in-home caregivers provide assistance with personal care, prepare nutritious meals, and transport clients to medical appointments and exercise opportunities. Right at Home carefully matches caregivers with clients, having found through experience that this is the best way to promote the companionship that wards off loneliness—an extra focus in senior health these days, and always important.
Professional in-home care can be an important part of a senior’s all-around health and well-being. Right at Home caregivers support the physical, medical and emotional needs of older adults. Find your local Right at Home and ask for a care consultation today.