Some Aging Issues are Unique to Men

3 generations of males

Men’s health is important, and yet, it isn’t talked about openly very often. For a spouse, partner, parent, uncle, or grandparent, and other males we know, men’s health and wellness are essential for living full and enriching lives.

Some men say that they only see a health care professional because a loved one, e.g., spouse, significant, or family member wouldn’t stop nagging them; however, that is not true for every man, since people have different thresholds of urgency about when and how frequently to visit a health care provider’s office.

Men's health month proclamation.Regardless of the stage of life, we encourage all men to consider important components of a healthy life, including physical health, mental health, and social connections. Men’s Health Month (June) and International Men’s Health Week (June 10–16) are good times to remind everyone in our community to be aware of regular tests and screening for men, and to encourage boys and men to take charge of their health.

Men experience some aging issues similar to women, including vision loss, hearing changes, and mobility challenges/balance issues; however, some aging issues are unique to men.

Starting at the age of 18, men at average risk for heart disease should have cholesterol screening every five years. Men older than 45 who have a family history of high cholesterol, heart attacks, smoking, unbalanced diet, above-average body weight and/or diabetes, and those who are not physically active, may need more frequent testing.

For men 50 and older, yearly physical exams are necessary, even if they feel healthy. It’s a good idea to recognize changes early so that any preventative and curative treatment(s) can be considered.

Specific health screenings for men

  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm: The U. S. Preventative Services Task Force recommends that men aged 65–75 who have smoked more than 100 cigarettes in their lifetimes have an aortic screening ultrasound. Additionally, men over age 60 who have a family history of abdominal aortic aneurysm should consider regular screening. Since the aorta is the body’s main supplier of blood, if an abdominal aneurysm ruptures, it can cause bleeding that is life-threatening.
  • Blood pressure: High blood pressure is known as the “silent killer”—a man might have high blood pressure and not know it. Getting regular blood pressure checks is essential. Undetected high blood pressure can lead to heart disease and strokes.
  • Colon cancer: Screening is particularly important if an immediate relative (mother or father) was diagnosed with colon cancer. Traditionally, a healthcare provider would order a test called a colonoscopy; however, there are new tests, including take-home tests. One is called Cologuard®, which tests for both DNA changes as well as blood in the stool. It’s advisable to talk to a health care professional about which test is best for you.
  • Diabetes: The American Diabetes Association recommends screening for men aged 45 and older, since Type 2 or adult-onset diabetes can be present, even if a man does not have any specific signs (e.g., excessive thirst, non-healing wounds, frequent hunger, blurred vision, and feeling tired).
  • Lung cancer: Annual screening is recommended for adults aged 50–80 who have a 20-pack-per year smoking history, if they currently smoke, or if they quit within the past 15 years.
  • Prostate conditions: More than 90 percent of men over age 80 have issues with an enlarged prostate. This is often called Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH). Some signs can include bathroom frequency, particularly at night, and problems with urination, including a weak urine stream. In some cases, an enlarged prostate can lead to infections, bladder stones, or reduced kidney function. Men can also develop prostate cancer, the second most common cancer in older men. Health care providers may order a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test or perform a rectal exam.

The 4Ms Framework of Age-Friendly Health Systems is important for men’s health:

  • What Matters (aligning health outcome goals and care)
  • Medications (if needed, they are prescribed appropriately)
  • Mentation (preventing, identifying, treating, and managing dementia, depression, and delirium across health settings)
  • Mobility (ensuring safety and staying active to remain strong and maintain function)

One local program that many men find helpful is the Aging Mastery Program (AMP). Though much of the information is not new, the information is presented in an interactive format and can be offered in person or virtually. Darrell, an AMP facilitator, shared that AMP provides “teachable moments” that help motivate participants to apply what they might already know, or what they’ve learned in class, and take steps towards health. Topics include healthy eating, physical activity, and staying socially active, as these have direct impacts on health and well-being.

Nelson Mandela, the South African anti-apartheid activist and statesman, once said, “There is no passion to be found playing small—in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”  Let’s all encourage the men we know to live their best lives. They are worth it!

Mary Pat O'LearyContributor Mary Pat O’Leary, RN, BSN is a senior planner at Aging and Disability Services, a division of the Seattle Human Services Department that serves countywide as the Area Agency on Aging. Mary Pat thanks Darrell Dickeson of Wenatchee for his contribution to this article and for his dedication to developing a statewide virtual Aging Mastery Program.

This article appeared in the June 2024 issue of AgeWise King County.