Farmers work long past regular retirement age, and many doctors lack the knowledge to help keep them healthy

“Farmers’ stark commitment to work is borderline obsessive, and researchers are beginning to develop new guidelines to better understand farmers, whose strong cultural and emotional ties to the farm drive their work ethic,” reports Karin Pekarchik of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture about a study by the UK College of Nursing’s Deborah Reed. Findings show that 40 percent of 1,423 Kentucky and South Carolina farmers aged 50 and over defined health as the “ability to work,” causing them to work well after retirement age. Reed told Pekarchik she hopes these results will help medical personnel better understand farming culture so they can better relate to farmers.

“The average Kentucky farmer is 57 – 13 years older than the average worker. Kentucky’s farming population mirrors that of the entire United States, making this a nationwide topic,” Pekarchik writes. Reed told her most farmers have two jobs and don’t list farming as their primary occupation, keeping doctors from screening for things like skin cancer and cataracts, common ailments associated with working outdoors.

Another alarming statistic is that farmers have the highest suicide rates of any occupation, most likely because they’re “exposed to unrelenting and multifaceted stress and pressure,” Pekarchik writes. The resulting stress from hard physical labor, long work days throughout the year, enduring vagaries of nature and livestock, adverse weather conditions, market fluctuations, government policy changes and family pressure can lead to suicide.

Reed told Pekarchik farmers, even from a young age, should be aware of the physical and mental problems that could ail them later in life. Reed suggests farmers use sunscreen, wear wide-brimmed hats, use hearing protection and wear sturdy shoes and use a walking stick to eliminate falls. (Read more)

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