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Seniors: Are you getting the right screenings?

The United States Preventive Services Task Force has put together the following recommendations for helping seniors manage their health. These are simple medical tests that can be done or ordered when you visit your regular doctor. Your doctor may recommend additional tests based on your personal health profile.

  • Blood pressure. You could be one of millions of Americans who have high blood pressure and don't know it. Get your blood pressure checked by your doctor at least once a year.

  • Colon cancer screening test. A Colonoscopy is just one of several tests that can be performed to look for colon cancer. A colonoscopy should be done every 10 years beginning at age 50. You may need to have a colonoscopy earlier and more frequently if you have risk factors. Talk to your doctor to see what's best for you.

  • For women, a breast exam and mammogram. Breast cancer risk increases with age. Therefore, it's especially important for you to get that annual mammogram and doctor's breast exam. A mammogram is recommended every one to two years starting at age 40.

  • For women, a pelvic exam and pap smear. An annual pelvic exam can detect cervical cancer or vaginal cancer, and are recommended every three years. A pelvic exam can also detect a host of other conditions that may affect your health and quality of life, such as incontinence.

  • Protecting your eyes. Eye diseases, such as macular degeneration, cataracts, and glaucoma, are common with age. Your eyes should be checked every 2 years until age 60 and then yearly after that. Screening can preserve and maximize your vision. Go more often if you have vision problems or risk factors for eye problems.

  • Hearing test. Approximately 30% of people over age 60 have some hearing loss, most of which is treatable. Get a hearing test at least once every three years.

  • Protect your bones. Osteoporosis is a dangerous but preventable and treatable disease. Ask your doctor for a bone density test.

  • Cholesterol screening. High cholesterol levels are a major cause of heart attacks and strokes. The good news is that high cholesterol levels can be treated by diet and medication. Consider an advanced lipid test, which will provide you with information regarding your risk.

  • Vaccinations. Seniors over the age of 65 should get a pneumococcal vaccine to protect against pneumonia. Anyone over age 50 should get an annual flu shot. A tetanus booster is recommended every 10 years.

  • Skin Cancer Screening. Remember this: Although the majority of your sun exposure occurred before age 18, skin cancers can take 20 years or more to develop. Luckily, most skin cancers are curable. The American Cancer Society recommends regular screening. Ask your doctor to check your skin for unusual moles or skin changes once a year.

This article first appeared in the March 2014 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter and was subsequently updated in January 2019 to reflect changes in service availability.

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