Getting Older: Preventive Health Care Tips for Aging Men
A 2021 study conducted by insurance provider Aflac found that nearly half of men (45%) 18 and older hadn't visited the doctor for an annual checkup or a medical visit during the last year. When you're young and healthy, it's normal to feel invincible, but sooner or later, the natural aging process catches up.
While routine checkups and preventive screenings might seem like a hassle, they're an important tool for aging men. Regular visits to your primary care physician can alert you to underlying health problems and educate you about the importance of exercise, good nutrition, and stress management.
Since National Men's Health and Fitness Week is right around the corner, we're highlighting several preventive health care tips for aging men.
Why are men so reluctant to visit the doctor?
Men and women experience many of the same health problems, but women are much more likely to visit the doctor. Researchers aren't entirely sure why, but Dan Sperling, MD, DABR, a physician and the Medical Director of the Sperling Prostate Center, says several factors may play a role, including:
A) Lack of general support since childhood for male self-care.
B) Embarrassment about the digital rectal exam.
C) Men don’t talk to other men about their bodies the way women do, so they tend to ignore health issues.
D) It’s not “manly” to seek medical attention. Often, men are taught to hide their feelings and push past pain and discomfort.
"The good news is, awareness and cultural norms are changing," Sperling said.
"More men are being proactive. We see this in our practice. We have patients who have taken time to educate themselves on the internet, and who more openly share with other guys what’s happening in their bodies. They want to live longer, with better quality of life, so they take better care of their health."
What are some preventive screenings that men 65 and older should participate in?
Routine preventive screenings are an important component of healthy aging. Many chronic health problems, including high blood pressure and low testosterone, don't present obvious symptoms. As a result, you might be at risk, but not realize it. Instead of hoping for the best, make sure to visit the doctor regularly.
There are several tests that aging males can benefit from, including:
Blood pressure screening
If you have high blood pressure (hypertension), you're more likely to experience a heart attack or stroke. Hypertension rarely presents symptoms, but it's potentially life-threatening.
As a man, make sure to have your blood pressure checked once every two years. If you have a chronic condition like diabetes, thyroid disease, or kidney disease, more frequent checkups might be necessary.
A cholesterol screening measures the cholesterol levels in your blood. Cholesterol helps build healthy cells, but too much of it increases your risk of heart disease. If your cholesterol levels are higher than normal, your doctor can recommend treatments to keep them in check.
Colorectal cancer screening
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that all men between the ages of 45 and 75 be screened for colorectal cancer. The type and frequency of screening that will most benefit you, depends on various factors, including your age, lifestyle, and family history.
After an exam and a review of your medical records, your doctor might recommend a stool-based fecal occult blood sample, a stool sDNA-FIT test, flexible sigmoidoscopy with stool testing, or colonoscopy.
A Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test
There's some controversy surrounding the PSA test, but experts say it still holds value.
"In 2012, a government panel downgraded the value of PSA screening out of concern that there were too many false alarms, leading to too many biopsies and too much aggressive treatment for insignificant disease," Sperling said.
"It’s true, those things were happening 10 years ago, but untold numbers of men were suddenly discouraged from getting their blood tests. This is tragic for two reasons:
First, we now see many more cases of high risk and even metastatic disease that could have been picked up earlier when a patient might have been a candidate for Active Surveillance or a minimally invasive focal treatment. These men now face aggressive PCa that can spread and ultimately cause death—a high price to pay for skipping an annual cheap, simple blood test.
Second, we’ve solved the problem of overdetection and overtreatment! If a PSA test is suspiciously high or abnormal,multiparametric MRI (mpMRI) is a noninvasive way to rule a biopsy in or out, because it provides a high-resolution 3-D portrait of suspicious areas. If necessary, these areas can then be targeted by a live,in-bore MRI-guided biopsy that only uses a minimum of needles but gives the most accurate diagnostic report. The result? Men avoid over-biopsy and over-treatment.
This means a very low risk of the urinary or sexual side effects that men fear. In short, a longer lifespan with a higher quality of life! Without a doubt,PSA saves lives. Get that annual PSA test, and if it’s abnormal, get a mpMRI!"
Your eyes aren't immune to the natural aging process. If you experience symptoms like blurred or double vision, visit the eye doctor.
"Eye exams are very important," said Adam Clarin, OD, an optometrist at Clarin Eye Care in Miami, Florida.
"Every year I have men 55-65 years old come in with vision changes and it turns out they have glaucoma with damage to the optic nerve and visual field loss. Almost always it's the same story, last eye exam more than 5 years ago and at least 6 months from them noticing symptoms before getting it checked out. This is permanent vision loss that could have been prevented with annual eye exams."
After you turn 30, testosterone production decreases by about 1% each year. Low testosterone levels are a common side effect of aging, but they can negatively affect your libido. For example, you might experience erectile dysfunction or loss of interest in sex. A blood test can identify low levels of hormones like estrogen and testosterone. If your body is out of balance, testosterone therapy and/or healthy lifestyle changes can prevent the problem from getting worse.
Up to 1 in 3 people 65 and older experience some type of age-related hearing loss. If others' voices seem muffled or you regularly have to ask friends and family members to repeat themselves, have your hearing tested. When left untreated, hearing loss increases your risk of behavioral health problems, including depression and anxiety.
Lung cancer screening
If you currently smoke or smoked in the past and it's been less than 15 years since you quit, your doctor might recommend lung cancer screening. Lung cancer screening uses low-dose computed tomography (a special type of X-ray) to capture pictures of your lungs. If your scans show anything abnormal, your doctor can perform additional tests, like a biopsy.
How can family caretakers encourage the men in their lives to undergo preventive screenings?
If you want the men in your life to take preventive screenings seriously, encourage them to be open and honest about their health.
"One of the most powerful ways to encourage men is to discuss these screenings with coworkers or friends at the gym or on the golf course," Sperling said.
"Guys, don't be shy. Speak up and share your own experience. You might even save a friend's life."
Chad Birt is a freelance B2B and B2C medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.