Carry on nagging - it's good for them!
Can't persuade your partner to see a GP about his health niggles? Worried about a friend who says she's too busy to book a smear test? Here's why you should never think twice about giving your doctor-phobic loved ones a friendly nudge or six... By Jane Murphy
When you're juggling 101 everyday chores and commitments, it can be difficult to keep your own health in check - let alone anybody else's. But as we grow older, those aches and pains tend to creep up on a more regular basis - and the sooner you get them checked out, the better. Chances are the occasional ailment or abnormality isn't anything to worry about. Still, if it is a genuine cause for concern, you'll have a far greater chance of making a full recovery if you seek medical advice now.
However, what if it's not your own health, but a friend or relative's you're worried about? Maybe you've noticed something - an unusual-looking mole or a persistent cough, for example - and can't decide whether to mention it. Or perhaps you have mentioned it and they still refuse to do anything about it. It can be tempting to shut up and hope the problem goes away - particularly if you want to avoid an argument - but continuing to nag could literally save a loved one's life.
Why keep nagging?
Forty per cent of people say talking to a friend or relative about a change in their body was what finally encouraged them to make an appointment with their GP, according to a new survey from Cancer Research UK
'Sometimes, we need a bit of a nudge to make an appointment with a GP about any unusual or persistent changes to our bodies,' says Dr Claire Knight, health information manager at Cancer Research UK. 'And as our survey shows, men in particular tend to speak to their other halves first before seeing their doctor.'
Remember, it's not just bodily changes that need checking out. Because not every illness presents obvious early symptoms, it's also vital to take up screening invitations and go for regular health checks - but these are all too easily ignored or forgotten about. A few examples? High blood pressure and LDL cholesterol levels may both be symptom-free - but can put you at far greater risk of heart disease, stroke or diabetes. So unless you keep that appointment, you may not find out about any potential problems until it's too late.
In the UK, women are invited for cervical screening every three years until the age of 49 - then every five years until they turn 64. Early detection and treatment can prevent up to 75% of cervical cancers. Women aged 50 to 70 are invited for breast screening every three years. And men and women aged 60 to 69 (50 to 74 in Scotland and Wales) should go for bowel screening every two years.
How to nag effectively
OK, it's probably easier said than done to persuade your partner to take time off work or away from the sofa/golf course/garden to go and get his bowels screened. And you could well be met with a similarly icy response if your opening gambit every time you speak to your best friend is, 'Have you had that funny mole checked out yet?' So it pays to take on board a few tips and tactics before unleashing your powers of persuasion.
'The reason many of us - particularly men - don't initially react well to being nagged about health issues is that we don't want to face the reality of a situation,' says psychologist Dr Massimo Stocchi
So first and foremost, try to be open and honest - without being over-emotional or scaremongering. 'Explain that you're only nagging because you care,' advises Dr Stocchi. 'This allows the other person to soften their defences so that better communication can be established. Point out how much it affects you to see someone you love putting up with a potential health problem when decisive action could so easily be taken.'
And try not to be defeatist. 'Emotions are mirrored, so it's essential to look and feel confident when you're nagging,' insists hypnotherapist Dominic Knight. 'Your advice will almost always be accepted based on your own expectations. Come from a place of genuine concern, warmth and empathy. People will never adhere to advice if they feel misunderstood. Explain that you know it's a hassle to see a doctor - and that you'd feel exactly the same way - but the sooner any problems are diagnosed, the sooner you can get them sorted out then get on with your lives.'
Take your own advice
Finally, there's no point nagging friends and relatives to keep tabs on their health if you don't do the same for yourself. If you're trying to persuade your partner to go for a blood pressure test, for example, you're offering him the perfect comeback on a plate if you haven't had your own blood pressure checked out recently either.
Demonstrate you're serious about your own wellbeing - and people will be more likely to take your advice concerning theirs. You can also show your support by embarking on a health and fitness regime together. If you think your partner needs to do more exercise, suggest you go for a weekend walk or join a gym together. Want him to cut back on the booze? Make sure you do the same.
So lead by example and offer encouragement - and chances are your concern and cajoling will eventually be taken in the right spirit. Remember, ignoring a problem won't make it go away, but a little gentle persuasion really can get results.