If you’ve been concerned because your dad refuses to see a healthcare provider, you’re not alone. In fact, many men either avoid or delay their annual health exams. According to a 2015 study by the CDC (United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), men are less likely to see a healthcare provider over a 12-month period than women.
So in honor of Father’s Day, we’re sharing some tips for starting a conversation with your dad about his health — one that will hopefully lead to lasting positive changes in his health habits.
When you are together or even during phone calls, watch for signs of common health concerns in older adults:
Cognitive decline — Signs of cognitive decline may include confusion, frequently losing one’s train of thought, short-term memory loss, forgetting important events, or feeling overwhelmed when decisions must be made.
Age-related mental health conditions — Signs of age-related depression and anxiety can include loss of concentration or loss of interest in daily activities, hobbies, and relationships.
Poor nutrition — Poor nutrition may be slightly more difficult to notice as it requires in-person monitoring (unless your dad discusses his diet with you). However, in general, beware of diets that seem high in processed foods, and listen for complaints about digestion, bowel movements, and even sleep.
It’s also important to keep an ear out for repeated complaints. We all have aches and pains now and again, but if you’ve been hearing the same one for a while, it may be time to address it.
Maybe you’ve overheard your dad make a certain health complaint a few times, or maybe you're concerned because he hasn’t been to a healthcare provider in a while. Whatever the reason, there are some ways to start the conversation that can lead to better outcomes:
Casually ask your dad if he has any concerns — There's no reason to start a conversation by sounding alarms. This can put both parties in a state of heightened anxiety and defensiveness. Try casually asking him how he’s been feeling lately, if he has any concerns, and if there’s anything you can do. This may either help confirm or deny any concerns you have, and be a starting point for both of you.
Focus on how you feel, not on his behavior — Instead of telling your dad what he’s doing wrong, try focusing on statements that relay your concern, such as “I’m worried because you haven’t been to see a healthcare provider in two years.”
Stick to the facts — Facts will help strengthen your case and may be the way to persuade dad that he might need help. This can sound something like “I’ve noticed you've been holding your stomach all day,” instead of “You’re looking unhealthy.” But be careful not to make it seem like you’re keeping tabs on him.
Have additional support standing by — Sometimes, it’s difficult to take constructive criticism from the ones we love. If your dad is having a hard time hearing you out, it might be helpful to have someone else (a sibling or another relative, for instance) try to voice their same concern at a different time — you don’t want this to feel like an intervention.
Be patient — Hearing someone else’s concern for you can often be a very personal, difficult experience. Don’t get discouraged if your dad doesn’t schedule an appointment or get a new gym membership the first time you talk. Be patient; this may take time.
Accept that your dad is able to and will likely make his own decisions — This can often be the most difficult part, because you love your dad, but at the end of the day, you have to accept that your dad is his own person. If he doesn’t receive your feedback, it may be time to take a step back, wait, and potentially revisit the conversation at a different time. Forcing him to listen to you won’t help anyone.
Once you've started the conversation and your dad is on board, here are some other ways you can help support him:
Find the right provider — Give your dad a hand in finding the right healthcare provider. You can offer to help make phone calls or navigate online patient portals.
Learn about his healthcare plan — Once he’s seen a provider, try and learn about your dad’s healthcare plan without judgement. This can help when checking in.
Join in if you can — If it’s possible, try joining in on some of the new healthy behaviors suggested by your dad’s provider. This can include going for a walk together, ordering something different when you’re at a restaurant with him, or sharing recipes.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to predict how your dad will receive the conversation. However, there are things it’s wise to avoid in your efforts to have a productive talk:
Parenting your dad — Although it may already feel like you’re parenting your dad, try to avoid lecturing him about his health or using language that is condescending.
Nagging or yelling — For most people, nagging and yelling are ineffective ways to get what you want. Try encouraging your dad to reach his goals instead.
Gloating — “I told you so” are words that nobody wants to hear — this includes your dad. If your prediction about a health problem turned out to be right, there’s no reason to rub it in. Instead, find additional ways to be supportive.
Remember, you’re doing all of this because you love and care for your dad. If you find yourself overwhelmed or frustrated, take a step back and breathe. You’ve got this — and so does he.
And if you're looking for a place to start, Carbon Health can help. We have options for primary and urgent care, in person and online. We make it easy for dads everywhere to get the care they need, when they need it most. Find a provider and schedule an appointment now.