How to Talk to Your Dad About His Health

Most men avoid addressing their health issues as long as possible.

Talking to your dad about his health can be tough.
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Whether you’re concerned that your dad is overweight or you’re frustrated that he’s been limping around on a sore knee for a year, convincing him to see a doctor can be tough. No matter how old you are, it’s difficult for parents to take medical advice from their kids.

But, if you’re worried about your dad’s health, starting a conversation could encourage him to change his habits, see a doctor, or practice better self-care.

It’s Common for Men to Avoid the Doctor

If you’re worried because your dad refuses to see a doctor, you’re not alone. Many men refuse to attend annual exams and they delay treatment for problems as long as possible.

A 2014 survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that men are half as likely to see a doctor over a 2-year period compared to women. Men are also more than three times more likely to avoid the doctor for more than 5 years.

Men are also twice as likely to say they’ve never seen a health professional as an adult.

Sadly, it’s common for men to put more energy into avoiding the doctor’s office, rather than taking care of their health.

Why Men Don’t Want to See the Doctor

While your dad may be able to list several reasons why he isn’t concerned about his health, there’s a good chance he’s covering up for his embarrassment and fear.

A national survey conducted by the Orlando Health hospital system revealed the top reasons men refused to see the doctor:

  • 22 percent said they were too busy to go
  • 21 percent said they were afraid to find out what might be wrong
  • 8 percent said they didn’t want to undergo uncomfortable exams (like prostate or rectal)
  • 8 percent feared the doctor would ask uncomfortable questions
  • 7 percent said they didn’t want to get on a scale to see how much they weighed

    So while on the outside your dad may say something like, “There’s no sense in seeing the doctor,” he may actually feel quite uncomfortable about going to an appointment. His stubborn attitude might be his way of masking his vulnerability.

    Men Are Less Likely to Talk About Their Health

    Doctors aren’t the only thing men avoid. Studies show most men won’t even talk about their health—not even with their male friends.

    A 2016 survey by the Cleveland Clinic found that 53 percent of men said they don’t talk about health issues.

    When they do bring up their health, it’s usually to brag about how they received their injuries. So while one man may share the stitches he received when a home improvement project went wrong, another might brag about the broken ankle he got scaling a cliff.

    The survey discovered that 22 percent of men never discuss health topics with anyone—including their spouses and children. Baby Boomers were especially private, with only 29 percent of them saying they have more than one person they can talk to about personal issues. Millennials were the most open, with 47 percent saying that they have more than one person they talk to about their health.

    So what do men talk about when they get together?

    The survey found they’re much more likely to discuss current events, sports, and work.

    Tips for Talking to Dad About His Health

    Before you dive into a conversation with your dad, spend a little time thinking about how to best approach the topic. Make it clear that you’re coming from a place of love and that you’re bringing up the issue because you are concerned about his well-being. Here are some tips for talking to your dad about his health:

    • Ask your dad if he has any concerns. Although there’s a chance your dad may be convinced he’s immortal, there’s an even better chance he’s afraid of getting old—or dying. He may not want to address his health issues because it’ll remind him that his aging body is starting to decline. But ask him if he has concerns about his health and see if he’s willing to talk.
    • Stick to the facts. If you’ve noticed changes in your dad’s health, gently point out the facts. Say something like, “Dad, this is the second time you’ve fallen this month,” or “I notice you get short of breath now when you’re walking to the garage.” The facts may help increase his awareness that a problem exists. Just don’t be surprised if your dad minimizes the issue or tries to change the subject.
    • Express your feelings with “I” statements. Saying, “You never take care of yourself,” will likely put your dad on the defensive. Stick to “I” statements such as, “I’m really concerned that you haven’t seen a doctor in a few years.”
    • Problem-solve obstacles and barriers. Ask what stands in the way of seeing a doctor. He may say he can’t take time off from work to get to the appointment, or he might say he doesn’t know how to find an in-network primary care physician because his insurance plan is too confusing. Offer to help him problem-solve those barriers.
    • Seek help from another trusted loved one. Most dads don’t take advice from their kids very well. So be prepared to get other trusted adults involved, if necessary. Your dad might be more willing to listen to your mother, his mother, a family friend, or a clergy member. If you can’t make any progress, seek help from one of them.
    • Take it slow. Don’t expect your dad to leap into action after a single conversation. Your words may take time to sink in. Wait a little while after your first conversation and gently bring up your concerns again at a later date.
    • Accept that your dad is able to make his own decisions. Ultimately, your dad has the right to make his own healthcare decisions. If he doesn’t want to get help, you can’t force him to see a doctor, change his habits, or get a second opinion.

    Strategies to Avoid

    There’s a good chance you’ll feel frustrated—and downright scared—when your dad doesn’t take care of his health. But don’t let your emotions get the best of you.

    No matter how desperate you feel, avoid the following strategies:

    • Parenting your dad: Don’t treat him like he’s incompetent. Lecturing him or raising your voice will harm your relationship. And it isn’t likely to motivate him to change.
    • Nagging: Don’t make all your conversations about his health. Nagging him to go to the doctor or change his diet won’t work.
    • Engaging in heated discussions: When emotions are running high, you may end up saying things you don’t mean. If the conversation gets too heated, end it for now. Wait until you’re both feeling calm before you bring up the subject again.
    • Saying, “I told you so”: Whether your dad finds out he needs a knee replacement or the doctor confirms he needs a hearing aid, don’t say, “I told you so.” Instead, make it clear you’re pleased he decided to get help.

    What to Do in Extreme Circumstances

    If your dad’s behavior is especially unhealthy, you don’t have to enable him. If he’s too winded to walk inside the store to buy his own cigarettes, you don’t have to buy them for him. Or, if he asks you to pick up fast food on your way over, you aren’t obligated to do it.

    Instead, make it clear that you aren’t going to participate in the decline of his health. It can be a tough conversation to have, but it could be instrumental in motivating him to change.

    Just remember that change isn’t likely to happen overnight. Your dad will need to come to the conclusion that he wants to take better care of himself before he can create long-lasting change.

    Sources

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: National Health Interview Survey. 2014.

    Cleveland Clinic: Cleveland Clinic Survey Confirms Men Rarely Talk About Their Health With Each Other. August 2016.

    Orlando Health. "Survey finds why most men avoid doctor visits: Two doctors drive coast-to-coast with a message for men: Stop making excuses!" ScienceDaily, 9 June 2016.

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