Tackling health risks in men over 50 Posted by Justine Clarabut on 21 May, 2019

There is consistent evidence that men are less willing than women to consult medical advice. 

Health services such as GPs, dentists, pharmacies and other medical professions are typically under used by men.  Men are also less likely to seek preventative measures such as regular check-ups for oral health, sight, health screening and so on. The implications of such can adversely affect their health, their families, their job, their communities and not to mention, national health budgets!  For example; heart disease claims more men’s lives than any other disease with one in five men dying from heart disease before the age of 75.   In the Government’s National Wellbeing Survey, men report significantly lower life satisfaction than women and men aged between 45 to 59 reporting the lowest levels of life satisfaction.

External factors increase the risk of health issues

Unemployment and absenteeism; Studies have shown that the unemployed suffer more physical and mental health problems than those that are employed.  Also, the duration of sickness absence from work makes it less likely that employed men will return to work.

Isolation and weak social connections: Brief isolation can be refreshing and productive but for many men, isolation can be so debilitating that it leads to long-term health issues including depression and even suicide. Of men who are lonely, or have experienced loneliness; 39% feel isolated, 35% depressed and 27% less confident. More than one in ten men suffer from loneliness and won’t admit to being lonely but continue to suffer in silence. Research on behalf of Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, conducted by Royal Voluntary Service, reveals many triggers to loneliness; in particular, over a quarter of men aged 65-69 said retiring had made them feel lonely.

Community activities can help improve men’s health

As already established, primary healthcare services are under used by men and initial groundwork suggests that men may prefer community-based activities provided in settings in which they feel comfortable and where conversations can take place ‘side by side’ rather than ‘face to face’.

In order to improve men’s mental & physical health and wellbeing via community activities, a model has been developed by a project, Step by Step (SBS) which will provide community spaces where men can meet and learn new skills and engage in hands-on activities. SBS is funded by the European Regional Development Fund and is a cross border partnership involving organisations from the UK, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

‘Men’s Sheds’ are an example of these community spaces that have been developed for men to connect, converse and create. The term ‘men’s shed’ is used as activities are often similar to those of garden sheds but not of a solitary nature.  Men can meet together to have fun, in a group, thus reducing loneliness and isolation and benefit their health and wellbeing.

SBS’s target group is specifically male, notably socially isolated men, and those with poor mental health or wellbeing. Men are empowered to participate in the social life of their communities, and to engage actively with the labour market, so they can make sustainable, positive changes in their lives, benefitting themselves and their communities.

Participants are trained to be champions for this new approach, as well as in soft skills (including motivational interviewing, empowerment and health interventions).  Creative uses of technology are also developed, to engage with men who prefer not to talk directly about health or unemployment, but may open up in the context of doing something practical or competitive.

Case study of pilot Interactive Health Kiosk event at Cobtree Men’s Shed

An integral part of the SBS model is providing men involved in the project with access to a ‘Health MOT’ using Interactive Health Kiosks provided by Wellbeing People. The Interactive Health Kiosks can be used to measure weight, heart rate, BMI, body fat content, blood pressure, hydration quota and a lifestyle questionnaire.

A pilot study for the SBS Interactive Health Kiosk strategy, The Health MOT Roadshow visited Cobtree Manor Park on Tuesday 2nd October 2018 and was located in the main car park from 9am until 3pm.

Prior to the event: Shedders were given prior notice that the Health MOT Roadshow was visiting the Cobtree Men’s Shed in October 2018.  They were sent an invitation to have a Health MOT which would check their vital signs and their life balance.

On the day of the event: Two members of Wellbeing People staff were on-hand to assist Health Kiosk users, screen for NHS Health Check eligibility and offer advice and signposting. ‘Shedders’ from the Cobtree Men’s Shed and park visitors alike were free to drop-in as they wished. Wellbeing People staff decided to give the shedders the flexibility to willingly make their own decision to visit The Health MOT Roadshow, rather than go into the shed to round them up!

Results: 12 Health MOTs were completed on the day; of which, 6 were shedders and 6 were park visitors. Health MOT data from the Health Kiosk showed that blood pressure for all shedders was elevated. BMI was outside the ideal range for half the shedders, while body fat content was outside of the ideal range for one-third of shedders. The lifestyle questionnaire completed as part of the Health MOT which scores respondents according to their behaviours, found that the majority of shedders have ‘room for improvement’ in sleep and relaxation. 

Outcome: The general feeling at the event was that the Health Kiosk was well-received by the shedders who were happy to discuss their results and spend time with Wellbeing People staff. One shedder commented that he did not want to visit the doctor for a check-up, so was pleased to have the opportunity to use the Health Kiosk.

For more information on the work Wellbeing People are doing with SBS click here

References and further reading