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Survey: Seniors Risk Serious Health Complications by Avoiding the Doctor

Written by Karen Selby, RN

Discussing health concerns – no matter how small – with a doctor is an important part of healthy aging. Even minor changes, such as trouble sleeping or unexpected weight loss, could be part of a more serious underlying issue. In most cases, there’s nothing to worry about. However, if there is something serious behind your symptoms, early detection may increase the chances of successful treatment.

Seniors are particularly susceptible to chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes. According to the National Council on Aging, approximately 80% of older adults have at least one chronic disease, and 77% have two or more. This is why it’s imperative that older adults visit the doctor as soon as they notice any symptoms that may indicate a possible illness.

Read on to learn about:

16% of Seniors Avoid the Doctor After Noticing Symptoms

The Mesothelioma Center at Asbestos.com surveyed 1,000 Americans over the age of 65 and found that 17% of them wait more than one week – and in some cases, more than a month – before visiting the doctor after noticing symptoms. An additional 16% avoid the doctor altogether, opting not to seek medical help.

How long seniors wait before visiting a doctor after the first sign of illness represented in a bar chart

Two-Thirds of Seniors Prefer Waiting for Symptoms to Disappear

In a second survey of 1,000 adults over the age of 65, respondents were asked why they delay visiting the doctor after first noticing symptoms. The most common answer: “I prefer to wait and see if they’ll go away.”

Other reasons for avoiding a doctor visit:

  • Preference to self-diagnose

  • Inability to pay a doctor

  • Lack of time

  • No transportation

  • Fear of receiving bad news

The percentage of older adults with a chronic illness versus how many visit a doctor

Avoiding the Doctor Poses Serious Health Risks

While the thought of a doctor visit may cause feelings of dread and anxiety, regular checkups are necessary to address common health concerns among seniors, including:

  • Chronic illnesses: Heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes

  • Physical injuries: Broken hips

  • Mental health issues: Depression

  • Cognitive health conditions: Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease

  • Sensory impairments: Cataracts and loss of hearing

  • Aging issues: Diminished bladder control and constipation

The number of cancer cases diagnosed in older adults

Being aware of the elevated risks of these conditions as you age will help you make more informed health care decisions and healthier lifestyle choices. Ignoring signs of illness may only worsen a condition, cause other health complications and call for unnecessary medications.

Early diagnosis of health complications, such as cancer and heart disease, may improve survival and life expectancy among seniors. Some serious health conditions may not produce symptoms. This is why it’s important to schedule regular screenings, especially as you age. The types of tests and frequency may depend on risk factors such as family history or genetic disorders. Ask your doctor about which tests you’ll need and how often you should receive them.

Recommended cancer screenings by age represented in a table

Screenings save lives. For example, cases of breast cancer deaths steadily increased by 0.4% every year between 1975 and 1989. However, according to the American Cancer Society, once mammograms became routine, breast cancer deaths plummeted by 39%. Women should get a yearly mammogram starting at age 45 to increase the likelihood of detecting breast cancer early and successfully treating it.

Colon cancer is another example of the importance of regular screenings. The American Cancer Society reports that colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of death among men and women and suggests people over the age of 50 receive a colonoscopy every 10 years. However, according to the organization’s most recent report available, only 60% actually do so.

Mesothelioma, or “the asbestos cancer,” is a third example of the importance of screening. The disease has a latency period of 20-50 years, which means you won’t develop symptoms until decades after exposure to asbestos. The unusually long latency period places older adults at a higher risk of developing mesothelioma.

If you worked with asbestos or asbestos products, or lived with someone who was regularly exposed to asbestos, you should request a cancer screening from your doctor or a doctor specializing in mesothelioma. Early mesothelioma detection can improve the prognosis and life expectancy of those affected.

Quality health care becomes increasingly important as you age. Don’t ignore early warning signs, even if they’re small. No matter the diagnosis, you’ll be glad you took care of it right away.

Methodology:
This study consisted of two survey questions conducted using Google Surveys. The sample consisted of no less than 1,000 completed responses per question. Post-stratification weighting has been applied to ensure an accurate and reliable representation of the target population of American men and women 65 and older. The surveys ran in December 2019.

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Last Modified April 12, 2020

Registered Nurse and Patient Advocate

Karen Selby joined Asbestos.com in 2009. She is a registered nurse with a background in oncology and thoracic surgery and was the regional director of a tissue bank before becoming a Patient Advocate at The Mesothelioma Center. Karen has assisted surgeons with thoracic surgeries such as lung resections, lung transplants, pneumonectomies, pleurectomies and wedge resections. She is also a member of the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators.

Walter Pacheco, Managing Editor at Asbestos.com
Edited by

5 Cited Article Sources

The sources on all content featured in The Mesothelioma Center at Asbestos.com include medical and scientific studies, peer-reviewed studies and other research documents from reputable organizations.

  1. The Gerontologist. (2019, May 17). Cancer Risk Among Older Adults: Time for Cancer Prevention to Go Silver.
    Retrieved from: https://academic.oup.com/gerontologist/article/59/Supplement_1/S1/5491140
  2. American Cancer Society. (2019). Cancer Prevention & Early Detection Facts & Figures.
    Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.org/content/dam/cancer-org/research/cancer-facts-and-statistics/cancer-prevention-and-early-detection-facts-and-figures/cancer-prevention-and-early-detection-facts-and-figures-2019-2020.pdf
  3. American Cancer Society. (2017). Breast Cancer Facts & Figures.
    Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.org/content/dam/cancer-org/research/cancer-facts-and-statistics/breast-cancer-facts-and-figures/breast-cancer-facts-and-figures-2017-2018.pdf
  4. National Council on Aging. (2015, June 3). Healthy Aging Facts.
    Retrieved from: https://www.ncoa.org/news/resources-for-reporters/get-the-facts/healthy-aging-facts/
  5. American Cancer Society. (n.d.). Cancer Screening Guidelines By Age. Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.org/healthy/find-cancer-early/cancer-screening-guidelines/screening-recommendations-by-age.html
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