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12 Preventative Health Screenings for Seniors

The aging process differs significantly from one person to the next. You at age 90 may resemble your neighbor’s 70, depending on genetics and a host of other factors.

Do you know your own baseline for health? Have you been checked for the things that matter at your age?

If you’re doing well physically and mentally, regular health checkups are easy to overlook; most people prefer to skip annual medical exams. But, when it comes to good health, information is the best tool. You can’t fix what you don’t know about. If you schedule regular medical checkups with your doctor and conduct regular tests, you have a better chance of enjoying a longer, healthier life.

Here are a dozen important tests and preventative screenings that all men and women over age 65 should complete regularly.

Blood Pressure Screening

A third of all Americans have high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but only half of those people are taking steps to control it. Blood pressure generally gets higher as we age, and is a factor in seven out of ten first heart attacks and eight out of ten first strokes. Typically, a staff member will take your blood pressure every time you visit your doctor, but they may not think to tell you the numbers unless you ask. So ask. In general, normal blood pressure is below 120 for the first number and below 80 for the second, according to the American Heart Association. Screenings should be completed every two years.

Colonoscopy

We know, we know. No one wants to schedule this. But you must. Colonoscopies help reduce deaths from colorectal cancer, which is the third most common type of cancer for men and women. Recommendations are for a first screening to begin at age 50 and then every five years going forward until age 75; after which you and your doctor will determine whether you should continue with them.

Bone Density Scan

This determines your bone density, and whether you are at risk for osteoporosis or a fracture in the following 10 years. Women especially should test at age 65, and then follow-up as needed.

Cholesterol/Lipid Blood Tests

These tests measure your “good” (HDL) and “bad” (LDL) cholesterol levels, which can be indicative of heart attack or stroke risk. You should have them performed at least once every five years. Those with higher levels may be asked to test more frequently.

Diabetes (Type 2) Screening

Type 2 diabetes occurs most often in those who are overweight and do not get much exercise. Testing – at least every three years – is especially important for those who have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, are obese or who have a family history of diabetes.

Mammogram

The recommended age to begin having mammograms has changed; it used to be 40; it is now 50, though not everyone has adhered to the later age. Right now, the recommendation is for a woman to have a mammogram every two years until she is 75, and then consult her physician about whether to continue.

Pap Smear

Pap smears screen for cervical cancer. While it is recommended that younger women have pap smears annually, those over 50 need only to be screened once every 1 to 3 years to age 65. After that, it’s between you and your doctor.

Hearing Test

It’s no surprise to anyone that hearing decreases with age, but it may surprise you to know just how many people are affected. Between ages 50-59, only 11.2 percent of people have hearing loss in both ears, but after age 60, 24.7 percent of people are affected. Get your hearing tested every two years.

Thyroid Function Test

The American Thyroid Foundation shares this anecdote on its website: Six people, between the ages of 65 and 84, has specific ailments – heart flutters, severe constipation, weight loss, weight gain, a dry cough, hearing loss and hand tremors. The surprise is that each condition can be attributed to a thyroid that is not functioning properly. Adults over 35 should be checked once every five years.

Prostate Cancer Screening

Prostate cancer tends to affect men who are 65 and older; it tends to grow slowly and is not necessarily fatal. It is the most common cancer in men except for skin cancers, but the current screening test can produce false positives and/or results that are ambivalent as to whether the cancer may ultimately cause harm. Since opinions vary on the value and frequency of testing, consult your doctor.

 Skin Check

Skin cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer; over the past 30 years, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined. The most dangerous kind, melanoma, can be attributed to sun exposure. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends monthly self-checks and use of a self-exam body map that can be downloaded here. If you spot anything worrisome, make an appointment with a dermatologist.

Vaccinations

It seems like a word more associated with children, but seniors need to pay attention. Vaccinations against the flu, pneumonia and shingles are important. But you may also need boosters of some of those childhood immunizations – tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough), according to the CDC. Check this chart and speak to your doctor about recommendations that are right for you.

Want to see more recommendations on remaining healthy as you age in place? Read Eight Tips to Staying Healthy While Growing Older.