Lack of information about common diseases and failure to discuss them with doctors could be hurting the health of men over age 50. Two recent Gallup surveys, one of 500 older men and the other of 300 doctors, focused on five diseases often viewed as embarrassing and "unmentionable" by older men: sexual dysfunction, depression, prostate cancer, colorectal cancer and prostate enlargement.
Men were most reluctant to discuss the sexual dysfunction and depression. Only one in four of those who reported symptoms of either in the previous year discussed the problem with their doctors, even though most had visited the doctor during the year."Effective medical treatments are available for these conditions, but many older men suffer in silence," said Dr. Robert H. Butler, chairman of the geriatrics and adult development department at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York.
In the Gallup survey of doctors, four in 10 thought that more than half of older men may go untreated for prostate or colorectal cancer or wait too long for treatment because of their reluctance to discuss these conditions.
Older men surveyed were surprisingly uninformed about another common health problem - prostate enlargement. Almost half did not know the symptoms - yet medical experts estimate that a majority of men 50 and older are affected by the condition.
Nor did half of the men surveyed know the warning signs of prostate or colorectal cancer - the Nos. 2 and 3 cancer killers of men over age 50, after lung cancer.
"As physicians, we know that many of the older men we see are having these problems. Therefore, our responsibility, as we've learned from this survey, is to help men get over the hurdles of embarrassment and lack of knowledge, and to ask the appropriate questions," Butler said.
A large number of the doctors surveyed believe that more than half of men with sexual dysfunction, depression or symptoms of colon cancer, prostate cancer or prostate enlargement do not discuss these matters with their physicians.
About one in four of the men in the survey cited embarrassment as the No. 1 reason for not discussing sexual dysfunction or depression with a doctor. About one in five gave embarrassment as the primary reason for not discussing colorectal or prostate cancer. Fear or denial was second.
On the positive side, about one-third of the men surveyed said they were in "good" health; another third, in "very good" health; and about one in five in "excellent health." The rest said they were in "fair" or "poor" health.
QUESTION: I'm 74 and have some stocks that I purchased many years ago. They have grown in value over the years, but recently the company drastically cut its dividend. To sell the stock would cost me a lot in taxes. What can I do?
ANSWER: It's true that many investments made years ago in anticipation of the need for more income at retirement are subject to capital-gains tax upon their sale and reinvestment. One opportunity available to people who want to unload a stock without paying a high capital-gains tax rate on the profit is the charitable gift annuity, offered through churches, universities and other charities.
Suppose, for example, you give your stock to a charity in exchange for a lifetime annuity income. This annuity income is based on the full fair market value of the stock, explained Roger A. Meyer, director of planned gifts at UCLA. He said many charities choose to use annuity rates that are set nationally by the Committee on Gift Annuities - an independent organization of charities and other non-profit entities. The annuity rate increases as the donor grows older.
While avoiding the immediate taxation of the capital gain, you may receive an income-tax deduction for giving a generous gift to the charity of your choice. Also, the annuity income can be substantial. Currently, annuity rates are about 6 percent for a 60-year-old donor and increase to a maximum of 14 percent for a donor 90 or older.
For further information about charitable gift annuities, contact churches, universities, hospitals or other charities in your area.
Send questions about growing older to On Aging, P.O. Box 84256, Los Angeles, CA 90073. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; individual answers cannot be provided.