Preventive Care for Seniors

Preventive services are important for everyone, especially for older adults. This is because your risk for health problems increases as you age. By preventing problems, or identifying them early, you are more likely to live a longer, healthier, and more satisfying life.

What are preventive services? Many physicians follow guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. This expert panel reviews research and advises doctors about which preventive services you need depending on your age, medical history, and family history. Preventive services include screening tests, vaccinations, and health advice.

Path to Improved Health

The following preventive services are especially important for older adults:

  • Annual wellness exam: Visit your doctor once a year for a physical. He or she will measure your height, weight, and body mass index. Your doctor will talk with you about any medicines you’re taking, your eating habits, and your activity level. This exam is a good way to check your overall health.
  • Influenza vaccine: This yearly vaccine helps prevent influenza (the flu). Older adults should get this vaccine every year. Between 70 and 90% of the deaths from influenza are in people 65 years of age or older.
  • Pneumococcal vaccines: The pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV) and pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) are both important to help prevent pneumonia. For people who have pneumonia, it helps prevent life-threatening complications. This is especially important for older adults. They are more likely to get pneumonia and develop complications.
  • Breast cancer screening: The risk of getting breast cancer increases as you get older. More than 40% of all new breast cancer cases are in women 65 years of age and older. Women between the ages of 50 and 74 should have a mammogram every 2 years to screen for breast cancer. Depending on your breast cancer risk factors, your doctor may recommend you have a mammogram more often.
  • Colorectal cancer screening: 60% of new colorectal cancer cases are in adults 70 years of age and older. The AAFP recommends screening for colorectal cancer with fecal immunochemical tests, flexible sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy starting at age 50 years and continuing until age 75 years. The risks, benefits, and strength of supporting evidence of different screening methods vary. Your doctor can discuss options for the type of screening tests available.
  • Diabetes screening: Diabetes is very common in older adults. It affects 1 out of every 4 adults 65 years of age and older. If you are overweight or obese, your doctor may test you for diabetes, even if you don’t have symptoms.
  • High Blood Pressure Screening: The possibility of developing high blood pressure increases as you get older. Your doctor will probably check this each time you are in the office, and at least once a year.
  • Cholesterol screening: High cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Men 35 years of age and older should have their cholesterol levels checked on a regular basis. Women 45 years of age and older who are at risk for coronary heart disease should also be tested. Cholesterol levels are checked with a blood test.
  • Osteoporosis screening: The risk of osteoporosis increases as you get older. Women who are 65 years of age and older should be tested for osteoporosis. This test is called a bone mass (or bone density) test.

Things to Consider

More than half of adults 65 years of age and older are not up to date with the preventive services doctors recommend. Skipping these services can be dangerous. That’s because some diseases and conditions may not be found in time for effective treatment.

Many seniors don’t get these services because they’re concerned about cost. However, most insurance and Medicare plans cover all costs of preventive services.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • How often do I need to have each screening?
  • How is each screening done?
  • Are there things that make me more likely to have a certain disease or condition?

Resources

Department of Health & Human Services: Medicare.gov

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