During June each year, individuals and organizations across the nation take the opportunity to celebrate Men’s Health Month — a campaign focused on four pillars: awareness, prevention, education and family. Compared to women, men have shorter life expectancies and poorer overall health as they age. In addition, the chronic conditions that men face are not only difficult to deal with physically and emotionally, but they also can create a significant financial burden. By increasing awareness, understanding the preventable risk factors that play a role, and following recommendations for healthy aging, men can enjoy better health and improved quality of life as they grow older.
Common Health Conditions for Men
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most common, costly and preventable health problems that all adults face include chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and arthritis. For men, the two most common causes of death among these chronic conditions are heart disease and cancer — followed by unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, diabetes, suicide, Alzheimer’s disease, influenza and pneumonia, and kidney disease.
In addition, there are a number of other medical conditions that men commonly suffer from. These include colorectal, lung and prostate cancers; hepatitis of various types; AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea and syphilis. Older men may also experience aging male syndrome — which is caused by a decline in testosterone and may manifest in a variety of symptoms including weight gain, difficulty sleeping, less interest in sex, irritability, erectile dysfunction, problems concentrating, increased urination, depression, and loss of bone, muscle and hair.
Many of these chronic conditions are made worse by health risk behaviors that individuals can change, such as lack of exercise, poor nutrition, using tobacco, and drinking too much alcohol. In addition, men often don’t see their health care providers on a regular basis for checkups and screenings to catch conditions before they get worse and make the most of treatment options that may help. In fact, according to the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, men are 25 percent less likely than women to have visited a health care provider in the previous year, and nearly 40 percent more probably haven’t followed up on recommended cholesterol screenings.
The Impact of Aging
For both men and women, aging in poor health carries a high cost — to individuals, families and the health care system as a whole. In the U.S., the current average annual health care expense for individuals 65 and older is $10,082. However, those costs are expected to rise in coming years as medical advances lead to longer lifespans and an accumulation of chronic conditions. In fact, in 2012, U.S. health spending as a share of GDP was 18 percent — but by 2050, that number is expected to rise to as high as 28 percent.
Families of aging individuals are impacted, as well. With long-term care costs rising, and many seniors preferring to age in place, families are increasingly taking over as unpaid caregivers. In fact, according to AARP, “in 2013, about 40 million family caregivers in the United States provided an estimated 37 billion hours of care to an adult with limitations in daily activities. The estimated economic value of their unpaid contributions was approximately $470 billion in 2013, up from an estimated $450 billion in 2009.”
Recommendations for Healthy Aging
The good news is that there are a number of positive steps that men can take to better care for their health as they age. These include keeping up with annual physicals and screenings, eating a well-balanced diet, maintaining a regular exercise routine, and keeping up-to-date with flu shots and vaccinations. In addition, it’s important for men to learn about the health issues they may face, maintain a healthy weight, discuss sexual health with health care providers, prevent falls, pay attention to dental needs and oral care, and stay connected to their families and communities.
Although men may face a number of health issues as they grow older, there is a lot that they can control. By focusing on increased awareness, prevention, education and family — men can enjoy better health as they age and enjoy each day more as they do.
Julie Potyraj is the community manager for [email protected], the online Master of Public Health offered by the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University. For several years, she served as a community development specialist in Zambia coordinating health education and community development programs. She is currently an [email protected] student focusing on global health and health communications.