Important Screenings for Seniors

As a senior, health care is an important issue. The older you are, the more vulnerable you become to many types of physical and mental conditions. One of the best ways to avoid potential health complications is preventive health care.

With preventive health care, you can catch medical issues before they become a problem, giving you time to come up with an effective solution. An important part of preventive health care is screening. Screening refers to any preventive test you take before you show signs of a physical or mental condition. Blood pressure and cancer tests are common examples of screenings.

Seniors have access to a number of preventive health screenings for little to no cost as part of many insurance plans. The majority of screenings are covered under Medicare. If your insurance plan does not specifically include preventive screenings, check to see if you are covered for an annual wellness visit. With some plans, screenings are built into the annual wellness visit so insurance providers can avoid listing out each individual service covered, since this can lead to a long and overwhelming list. With screenings being readily available are for seniors, there is no excuse not to stay up to date with them all.

Blood Pressure Screenings

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is one of the most common health conditions present in seniors. As of writing, one in every three adults suffers from high blood pressure. If you do not already have high blood pressure, you are much more likely to develop it between the ages of 65 and 74. High blood pressure is sometimes referred to as the silent killer. The symptoms for high blood pressure are not noticeable until it is too late. High blood pressure leads to serious conditions, and in the most severe cases, causes strokes or heart attacks. Since there are no warning symptoms, it is very important for you to check your blood pressure at least once a year. If you are at risk, your doctor may recommend even more frequent blood pressure tests.

Cholesterol Screenings

Cholesterol screenings are part of a general lipid disorder screening. You should begin cholesterol screenings when you turn 35 years of age if you are male, or 45 years of age if you are a female. Depending on your medical history and other preexisting issues, your doctor may recommend more frequent screenings. As a senior, cholesterol screenings are still important, but they are one of the rare types of screenings you will need less compared to your younger years. Your lipid levels are not likely to increase after you turn 65 years of age. As long as your cholesterol is healthy by the time you turn 65, you should be in the clear to avoid any health issues.

If you are at risk for high cholesterol, your doctor will likely recommend either dietary changes, general lifestyle changes or certain medications to bring your cholesterol score within reasonable limits. High cholesterol leads to many other medical conditions, and it can greatly increase your chance of having a heart attack or stroke. Other possible health risks from high cholesterol include the following:

  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sudden and severe headaches or dizziness
  • Numbness
  • Blurred, blackened or double vision

Prostate Screening

According to studies from the Mayo Clinic, most cases of prostate cancer are found in men 65 years of age or older. All men are encouraged to get a prostate cancer screening when they turn 50 years of age. There are two types of prostate cancer screenings, a prostate specific antigen (PSA) test and a digital rectal exam (DRE). PSA testing is more common among seniors, but the screening your doctor chooses will largely depend on your medical history. How frequently you need to be screened will change based on the results of the first screening, as well as your family medical history.

Breast Cancer Screening

Senior women have a much higher chance of developing breast cancer. Like prostate cancer, you should start receiving mammograms at the age of 50 to screen for breast cancer. You should continue to schedule your mammogram every two years, unless your doctor recommends more frequent screenings. Breast cancer can be treated, but it is much easier to come up with a treatment plan if you catch it as early as possible through a breast cancer screening.

Obesity and Diabetes Screenings

Obesity and diabetes screenings are two separate screenings. However, if you are overweight, you are much more likely to develop obesity. The National Diabetes Education Initiative uses your Body Mass Index (BMI) to determine how often you need to be screened, so it makes the most sense to first get an obesity screening to figure out your BMI. You may also be recommended to get more frequent diabetes screenings if you have a family history of diabetes. You should first be screened for diabetes starting at 45.

Seniors are considered to have a higher risk for diabetes, since one of the causes is physical inactivity. As you get older, it is harder to be physically active, increasing your odds of developing diabetes later in life, especially post-retirement.

Dental, Vision and Hearing Exams

Dental, vision and hearing exams are all separate screenings. During your physical exam, your doctor may briefly go over your vision, hearing and dental health, but not to the same extent as a screening dedicated specifically for these areas. When you are younger, it is much more common to schedule these screenings. However, as you get older, they may start to feel unnecessary, and you are more likely to forget scheduling them. This is a very negative mindset, especially since many dental, vision and hearing problems strike suddenly, without many warning symptoms.

For example, you can avoid problems such as glaucoma or gingivitis by getting your annual screening. If you skip on your screening, it may be too late to prevent these conditions by the time you start to notice the symptoms. One study even estimates that 25 percent of people between 65 to 74 years of age suffer hearing loss that could have been prevented if they had their annual hearing exams.

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