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Mature Focus: June 10

Focus on men’s health

Helping men who may hesitate to see their doctors regularly is one focus of Men’s Health Month. [Source: Adobe Stock]

June is Men’s Health Month, a good time to stress the importance of preventive healthcare for the men in our lives … especially those over 50. 

For a number of reasons, though, many men resist seeking care, sometimes until an illness or disease has advanced to a less treatable stage. Studies have shown that about 40% of men don’t go to the doctor until a potentially serious health issue can no longer be avoided.

Often, men ignore symptoms or put checkups at the bottom of their “to-do” list because they’re really afraid something might be wrong. More than 20% of men who responded to a past online survey said fear had prevented them from scheduling an annual exam. There also appears to be a correlation between male attitudes around being strong and self-reliant and reluctance to visit a doctor, research has shown.

As a result, men are twice as likely as women to wait more than two years between doctor visits. Because women tend to visit their primary care doctors more frequently, they have a higher likelihood of receiving an early diagnosis – part of the reason women have a longer life expectancy.

Once men do reach a “trigger point” where they can no longer put off seeking care, however, most will continue to go to the doctor more frequently, according to a recent Dutch study. Researchers in that country looked at the patterns of primary healthcare use among thousands of men and women over age 60, both before and after their admission to a hospital for a significant illness such as heart attack, stroke or COPD. They found that while men were about half as likely as women to visit a primary care doctor before being hospitalized, both sexes saw their doctors at about an equal rate afterward.

Closing the gender gap when it comes to preventive care may not be an easy task. But persuading the men we love to make those appointments could potentially save lives. 

Answering a call for help

Nursing homes and assisted living centers have become the unfortunate epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, both in the U.S. and around the world. 

Domestically, over a third of all deaths from the virus have been among elderly residents of skilled nursing facilities, along with workers caring for them. 

According to a recent national poll conducted on behalf of the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living [AHCA/NCAL], more than 80% of U.S. voters surveyed believe long-term care facilities need more federal financial support during this crisis. 

Mark Parkinson, the organization’s president and CEO, said the survey results demonstrate that the American public is deeply concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on the seniors who reside at these facilities, and their desire for immediate help from government leaders.

In late May, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services responded to this call by authorizing a supplemental relief fund of $4.9 billion to help skilled nursing facilities meet critical needs. These additional funds may be used to help care homes hire additional staff members, scale up their testing capacity, acquire personal protective equipment [PPE] and a range of other expenses directly linked to the pandemic.

Every certified care facility will receive a fixed distribution of $50,000, as well as a distribution of $2,500 per bed. 

“We are working around the clock to protect the people who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 … That work makes this funding more important than ever,” Parkinson said after the HHS announcement. 

Top five healthspan habits

“Healthspan” is the buzzword now being used to describe living both a long life and living free of major diseases … goals all middle-aged adults undoubtedly share. Researchers from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health recently took an interesting look at the health habits of more than 100,000 men and women over a period of about 30 years, to learn more about which ones contribute to the longest possible healthspan among older adults. 

They found that the more of five specific lifestyle habits people followed, the longer they lived. Those who practiced all five by age 50 generally achieved over a decade of additional life, compared to those who did not – 14 more years for women and 12 for men. Even having just one or two of the habits conferred some additional years.

Following at least four of the five habits also resulted in a much longer healthspan – on average, about an extra decade free from major health problems including heart disease, stroke, cancer and type 2 diabetes.  

The top five lifestyle habits found to contribute to the longest healthspan were:

1. Healthy diet: Regularly eating foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, healthy fats, and omega-3 fatty acids, and limiting foods like red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, trans fats, and excess sodium.

2. Regular physical activity:  Getting at least 30 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous activity, such as brisk walking, on most days of the week.

3. Healthy body weight: Defined as having a body mass index [BMI] between 18.5 and 24.9.

4. Never smoking.

5. Low-risk alcohol intake: Defined as about one drink per day for women, and two per day for men.

On the calendar

Oasis offers virtual events

St. Louis Oasis recently kicked off a summer schedule of online and phone-based programs for St. Louis area residents during June and July. Until in-person classes can resume, these live programs using Zoom video give older adults the opportunity to attend Oasis programs from the safety and comfort of home.

After registering for an online or phone-based program [by visiting st-louis.oasisnet.org], participants will receive an email with instructions for gaining access.

Those with questions about any aspect of the programs should contact the St. Louis Oasis office at (314) 862-4859, ext, 24. 

Mercy hosts Medicare info sessions

During June, July and August, Mercy is offering free, online sessions for St. Louis area residents approaching Medicare eligibility. These live video sessions, titled Medicare – Getting Started, allow attendees to get expert answers to specific Medicare questions in real time. Each session will cover:

• Differences between Parts A and B

• Part C (Medicare Advantage)

• Part D drug coverage

• Medicare supplemental insurance plans

• Premium assistance available to those who qualify.

To get more information or find out about upcoming sessions, visit mercy.net/MedicareOnline.

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