Conventional wisdom has told us that men are less likely than women to visit the doctor or seek out medical care, but a new Danish study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health suggests that stereotype might not be as straightforward as it seems. It’s true that women access primary healthcare services at a higher rate than men, but that may be because women live longer with serious medical conditions than men—and therefore go to more healthcare visits.
Furthermore, researchers found that while women are more likely to be diagnosed earlier with serious conditions, they still tend to avoid going to the doctor if they don’t think their symptoms are urgent. And once they’ve been admitted to the hospital for a serious illness, both sexes are equally as likely to continue visiting a healthcare provider and receiving regular medical care.
What does any of this have to do with Mother’s Day? Well, if you’ve been bugging your dad to get himself to the doctor for his health, you’ll want to make sure you don’t neglect Mom—she could also be ignoring worrying symptoms simply because they don’t seem urgent enough. Since early detection and treatment of serious illnesses can improve overall outcomes, encourage your mom to schedule regular visits with her healthcare provider every year. Here are five gentle reminders when a parent refuses to go to healthcare visits.
1. Emphasize prevention and screening
Many health conditions, like heart disease and high blood pressure, are silent killers for women…but they don’t have to be. If your mom hates going to a healthcare provider, remind her that she may actually have to go less often if she keeps up with her annual appointments.
“Some of the leading causes of death for women have risk factors we can catch early, but only if we know your numbers,” says Sarah Swofford, MD, a family medicine practitioner at University of Missouri Health Care. “Your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and body mass index (BMI) are all collected at an annual well visit, and they are important screening tools [for chronic conditions].”
Your mom’s healthcare provider can perform breast and cancer screenings as well as an osteoporosis screening, which may prevent future bone fractures. Plus, there are a few routine adult vaccinations, says Dr. Swofford, designed to prevent serious illness: one for shingles and one for bacterial invasive pneumonia. Even if Mom is feeling healthy now, checking in once a year with her healthcare provider may prevent future health issues.
2. Remind her that medical needs change throughout life
Sure, your mom was healthy back in her 50s, but now that she’s in her 70s (and postmenopausal) she needs to be evaluated for health by a different set of metrics.
“As women get older, many think that because they no longer need contraception or Pap smears, they don’t need to see a primary care provider on a regular basis,” says Dr. Swofford, “but there is more to well care than just Pap smears.”
If your mom doesn’t already have a relationship with a trusted primary care provider, now is a good time to establish one who can care for her throughout all the phases—and changing hormones!—of her life.
3. Talk up her mental health, too
Physical concerns may be at the top of your list for Mom, but don’t forget about mental health concerns like insomnia, sleep apnea, anxiety, and depression. Her mental health is just as important as her physical health as she ages! If you know she’s been feeling down lately or having trouble sleeping, explain that her healthcare provider may be able to help her regain some energy and peace of mind.
4. Turn it into an act of love
When the request to see a healthcare provider comes from love, not nagging, Dr. Swofford says it’s typically better received.
“Try saying something like ‘I love you and care about you, and I want you to be an active part of our lives as you get older,’” she suggests. Focus on how you want Mom around for as long as possible—and that it will make both of you happier if she can enjoy those golden years, not suffer through them.
5. Don’t neglect end-of-life care
It sounds depressing, we know, but Dr. Swofford says that annual holidays are a good opportunity to discuss how your mom wants her health decisions handled should she become seriously ill or require intensive care.
“An advanced care directive is really a gift to adult children,” says Dr. Swofford. “It reduces the emotional burden on them during difficult times, so they can simply follow a parent’s wishes [rather than trying to make decisions for them].”
Sure, flowers are a nice Mother’s Day gift. But this year, show Mom you love her by helping her prioritize her health—and asking her to schedule a checkup.