Julie Hayes is the Content Manager at Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging.
Caregiving is the sum total of an array of factors that are particular to you and your loved one. No journey is the same. A variety of issues play a role in your loved one’s physical and mental well-being. They include age, eating habits, ethnic background and family health history. Your caregiving relationship is also impacted by factors like your loved one’s personality and moods, ability to convey thoughts and feelings, and spiritual views or religious faith. Another key factor is gender. Males and females face different challenges as they age. As such, it helps you as a caregiver to a male loved one to understand these challenges, whether you care for a husband or partner, father, grandfather, sibling or other family member.
Following are some questions and answers, as well as suggestions, to help the older male loved one in your care to age well:
Why don’t men live as long as women?
Data shows that men have a shorter life expectancy than do women. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, life expectancy for males typically falls in the range between 76-78, while life expectancy for females more commonly falls in the 80-82 range.
A number of theories, pointing to both physiological and societal factors, have been posed to explain this. A few of the most widely accepted theories focus on men’s:
- Greater ‘risk-taking’ behaviors or habits: According to the CDC, men tend to drink and smoke more than women, meaning they are at a higher risk of alcohol- and smoking-related diseases, as well as accidents and injuries caused by drinking. Men are also more likely to work dangerous jobs like firefighting, mining, construction work or military service.
- Greater risk of heart disease at an earlier age: Heart attacks and coronary artery disease can easily lead to death, and males tend to have these heart issues at an earlier age than females do. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the average age for a male to have a heart attack is 66, while the average age for females is 70.
- Greater rates of suicide: According to Mayo Clinic, women are two times as likely to be diagnosed with depression as are men. Yet, men are more likely to die by suicide than are women.
- Lower likelihood of seeing a physician to address health issues: According to WebMD, close to half of men report that they don’t get yearly wellness check-ups. Men also have a lower likelihood of visiting a physician to address symptoms and injuries, or to have regular dental and vision appointments. In contrast to females, males also don’t tend to talk about health concerns with friends, peers or even family members. Societal messages like “be a man” and “hang tough” can come into the picture as well, and can be particularly difficult to overcome when the messages start early in life.
What major health issues impact men?
To help keep your loved one as healthy as possible, it’s important to be aware of the major men’s health issues. Among them are:
- Heart disease: As discussed, men tend to experience heart disease at an earlier age than women do.
- Prostate cancer: According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 8 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer, and 1 in 41 die as a result.
- HPV and other STIs: Older adult males are less likely to be tested for, or even asked by their physicians about STIs compared to younger males. HPV, in particular, is common among sexually active adults, and can lead to cancer.
- Diabetes: Males are at higher risk for diabetes, the CDC reports.
- Low testosterone: According to the Cleveland Clinic, about 40 percent of men aged 45 and above have low testosterone. The condition can affect sex drive, depression and other mood issues, concentration and even memory.
How can I help my male loved one to stay as healthy as possible as he ages?
- Encourage yearly health screenings: Preventive health can be life-saving, so it’s important for your loved one to have annual exams. Screening for blood pressure, cholesterol, prostate wellness and STIs can all lower the various risks that affect men. Regular vision and dental appointments are also vital to health!
- Have open conversations about mental health: Even though the subject of mental health is more out in the open than before, many males, particularly those who are older, remain reluctant to discuss it. Help put your loved one at ease by paying close attention to his emotions, behavior and self-image, and ask how he’s doing. Assure him that you’re on his side, and encourage him to discuss the subject or to visit a professional to address any issues.
- Gather a family medical history: Knowing potential risks can help prevent issues from developing. If you’re missing information, ask other family members whether they can fill in blanks.
- Avoid gender stigmas: Negative stereotyping often comes from others, but it can also come from what you say and do. For instance, you may compliment your loved one for being stoic when it comes to his health—but if he’s experiencing any issues, it’s important for him to talk about them. Be careful not to contribute to the “hang tough” messaging and encourage your loved one to reach out for assistance when necessary. If you are a male caregiver, keep in mind that your actions can set an example, even if you’re younger than your loved one.
- Explore supportive resources: You and your loved one can gain much from a number of local and national resources. They range from caregiver support groups to condition-specific organizations which are designed to aid you both. To access these resources, you may contact your community’s Area Agency on Aging, explore the Eldercare Locator or seek referrals and tips from healthcare professionals or your community senior centers and libraries. You may also consider care coaching services like Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging’s WeCare…Because You Do, which tailor care plans to you and your loved one’s specific requirements.