How to convince your stubborn mum and dad to go for a health check-up
Your parents are getting older but it’s getting hard to convince them to go to the doctor for their annual appointment. We’ve asked some experts on how best to deal with their many excuses for everyone’s peace of mind.
As our parents grow older, it’s perfectly natural to start worrying about their health and wellbeing.
More often than not, we find ourselves reversing roles – we’re the ones now nagging them to take care of themselves.
“Have you taken your medicine? Don’t forget your vitamins, too.” “Pa, when are you going to stop working? You need to rest.” “Ma, can you go out for walks instead of watching Korean dramas all day?”
If you’re lucky, they’ll listen. But there’s one important thing many of us have a hard time convincing them to do – going for that health check-up.
“Unfortunately, it is usually the elderly who are the most resistant to health checks,” said Dr Edwin Chng, the medical director of Parkway Shenton.
“The common reasons given are they fear discovering a medical condition, they are currently well, and they are at an age when they are ready to die.”
But even if all you get is a non-committal grunt or a mumble of “soon, soon”, you shouldn’t stop trying to convince them that it’s for their own good.
Here’s a look at some common excuses you might hear and how to work around them, so Mum and Dad can make that appointment sooner rather than later.
‘MY FRIENDS ARE HEALTHY, SO I SHOULD BE GOOD, TOO’
According to Dr Chng, Singaporeans – young and old – are usually only jolted out of their complacency after hearing about “a friend’s or relative’s recent medical diagnosis, or sudden death”.
But waiting for something bad to happen to someone else before going for a check-up is not a smart move. For instance, certain diseases such as colorectal and breast cancers – two top cancers in Singapore – have genetic disposition, he said.
If someone in the family tree has the disease, everyone at home has an increased risk of developing it.
Helping your parents stay vigilant about their health will improve their chances of surviving the disease if they do develop it.
A gruff “I don’t need to be tested” can also be due to being unaware about what health screenings are actually for.
In a 2015 survey by Changi General Hospital (CGH) regarding breast cancer, for example, more than 50 per cent of the 1,000 respondents didn’t even know the screenings were for those without any signs of the disease.
According to Associate Professor Tan Su-Ming, who is head and senior consultant of Breast Surgery at CGH, they would only go if they had a problem – which defeats the entire purpose of getting screened.
You can use the practical approach by telling your parents how common health problems can lead to complications if left untreated, said Brian Poh, senior clinical psychologist from the Institute of Mental Heath's Department of Developmental Psychiatry.
"Early detection reduces the chances of complications, which are more inconvenient, costly and time-consuming in the long run," he said.
And avoid guilt-tripping them. “It’s a negative strategy that makes the person feel bad about himself. Using guilt displaces any positive feelings arising from your original intentions of love and concern, takes away emotional connection, and could possibly turn it into an antagonistic experience,” said Poh.
“They will probably get defensive rather than do what you want them to.”
Another thing you can offer to do is to set up the appointment and take them there.
‘IT’S OKAY, I DON’T WANT TO KNOW’
Your parents might choose to be in denial because they want to live in the illusion that there’s nothing wrong with them.
“This is akin to the ostrich mindset, where one avoids risky health situations by not receiving any information about them,” said Poh.
It's a response that might have been triggered by anxiety, he added. “They let their imagination run wild and they think of the worst case scenarios, where the check-up uncovers something seriously wrong.”
To tackle the anxiety, try the gentle and loving approach. “You can bring it up casually to reduce resistance.
For example, you might say, my company provides free health checks and that reminded me that you have not gone for a health screening for a while," said Poh.
If Mum or Dad takes better to the direct approach, state your concerns plainly.
“You might say, I notice that you are not as energetic as before. I am concerned about you and I would feel better if you go for a health check-up,” suggested Poh.
It takes an open conversation – or a few – to get the message across.
“Educate them about the importance of regular health screening, early intervention, and address their concerns if they show reluctance,” said Poh.
“Always use positive language and describe the benefits of health screening in an encouraging manner, rather than catastrophising or using fear to threaten them.”
Like in the previous scenario, you can also offer to set up an appointment – but with the added reassurance that you do the screening together. “It reduces the stress and anxiety of doing it alone,” said Poh.
Dr Chng added that finding a doctor that your family member is comfortable with will also help.
‘I ALREADY WENT FOR MY COMPANY’S FREE HEALTH SCREENING’
You’ve probably heard this one from your parents if they’re still working.
But what Mum and Dad went through might not be sufficient because the basic package that is usually offered for free to employees varies from company to company, said Dr Chng.
“Usually, it would consist of height, weight, body mass index, visual acuity, blood pressure, heart rate, physical examination, fasting glucose, fasting lipids, full blood count, kidney function and liver function.”
Added Dr Chng: “It is best to discuss with the doctor for him to recommend any additional tests if necessary. The recommendations are usually based on risk factors such as age, gender, past medical history and family history.
‘I KEEP FORGETTING TO SCHEDULE AN APPOINTMENT’
Unlike the earlier excuses, this one is easier to manage – assuming, of course, it’s really just about keeping tabs on their annual medical appointments.
A tip from Dr Chng: Fix the health screenings in their birthday months. So, when you’re planning their birthday dinner or presents, you’ll be reminded to make sure they go for their check-ups, too.
“However, avoid the last quarter of the year, that is, from October to December as these are traditionally the busier months,” said Dr Chng.
“Many corporate clients will try to book last-minute appointments to make use of their company’s health screening benefits before the year is up,” said Dr Chng.
‘I CAN’T AFFORD TO GO FOR A CHECK UP’
So, they haven’t forgotten and are willing to go for one – but they’ve brought up finances. Being the good child that you are, surely helping out your parents won’t be an issue?
You can also help them check a few things: Whether their insurance plans cover the cost, or what subsidies they're eligible for under the Screen for Life (SFL) national screening programme, which offers subsidised screenings for Singaporeans, depending on age and gender.
For instance, under the SFL programme, your parents may only need to pay S$5 each if they're eligible Singaporeans, S$2 for eligible CHAS (both Blue and Orange) cardholders, or nothing at all if they're Pioneers.
This covers the screening tests (which could include tests for cardiovascular risk, colorectal cancer and/or cervical cancer screening) done within the same visit and the first post-screening consultation, if required.