My father lived with me and my family during the last two years of his life while he sank ever deeper into Alzheimer’s disease.
His behavior was frequently bizarre. He might emerge from his bedroom with three of my son’s baseball caps piled on top of his head but wearing no pants. When trying to participate in a conversation, he might blurt out passionate pronouncements that made no sense at all. “Ya see, the individualism is something that’s not already formed,” he would bellow. “You gotta fight...
"A few days," he answered, speculating it was probably just an outbreak of eczema.
"That doesn't look good," I replied. "Maybe you should see your doctor."
"OK," he said. I shook my head, knowing it would be a while before he heeded my suggestion. Last year, it took a few months to convince him to go for a physical examination. Before that, it had been five years since he'd been to a doctor.
To Noel's credit, he's just being a guy. According to a 2001 CDC report, women are 33% more likely than men to visit a doctor in general, although the gap narrows with increasing age.
One could accept the statistic as just another difference between men and women, but the stakes are too high to remain complacent.
Men also die younger than women. In 1920, women outlived men only by one year. Today, CDC figures show the life expectancy gap has widened: On average, women survive men by over five years.
"Any human being who is not connected to a physician to screen for major health problems is at greater risk (of disease and death)," says Jean Bonhomme, MD, MPH, a board member of the MHN.
The biggest problem that men have is not so much a specific disease, says Bonhomme, but the diseases are the result of lack of health care monitoring earlier in life. He cites the progression of heart disease as an example: "If you don't get your cholesterol checked when it's going high when you're 20, and if don't get your blood pressure checked when it's going high when you're 30, maybe your blood sugar's getting a little high when you're 40, what do you think is going to happen when you're 50?"