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Medical Tests for Your 60s and Up

You deserve to feel good. Just because you are older than 60, don't think you can't be independent, vital, and healthy. Just look at Sean Connery or Jane Fonda!

But do you know what to do to stay healthy? The United States Preventive Services Task Force has put together the following recommendations to keep seniors healthy, happy, and safe. 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.

Did You Know?

Under the Affordable Care Act, many health insurance plans will cover preventive care services, including checkups, vaccinations and screening tests, at no cost to you. Learn more.

Health Insurance Center

  • 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. Your heart, not to mention your arteries, brain, eyes, and kidneys, will thank you later.
  • Stepping on the scales. Welcome to the weight gain triple whammy: muscle is replaced by fat as we get older. Then, that fat goes to your waist! Also, you don't burn calories as well as before because your body's metabolism is slowing down. Take heed of any weight gain; you could be robbing yourself of good health.
  • The rectal exam. Dread it; hate it; joke with your friends about it: Just make sure you get one -- every year. The rectal exam and a fecal occult blood test (FOBT) will tell if there are any masses or subtle bleeding that can not be seen with the naked eye. Along with other medical tests your doctor may recommend, it may give clues to treatable problems in your colon (think colon cancer) or prostate for men.
  • Other colon cancer screening tests. Katie Couric got hers on national TV. 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. Know this: 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 or 50. Not all breast cancer experts agree. Talk to your doctor about when you should begin regular mammograms.
  • For women, a pelvic exam and pap smear. You may think it's crazy, but many women over 60 still need to get regular pelvic exams and Pap smears. Older women can get cervical cancer or vaginal cancer. And the pelvic exam can detect a host of other conditions that may affect your health and quality of life (think incontinence!). Pap smears are recommended for women every three years. If a woman is older than 65 years old and has had three negative pap smears in a row or has had a total hysterectomy, a pap smear can be omitted.
  • 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. At least 30% of people older than 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 no joke. If you have it and you suffer a fracture -- especially of the hip -- you've significantly increased your risk of permanent disability or death. Get serious and ask your doctor to refer you for a bone density test. Women should have a bone density test at age 65. If a woman is at a higher risk, a screening test should be done at age 60.
  • Cholesterol screening. High cholesterol levels are a major reason why people have heart attacks and strokes. The good news, though, is that high cholesterol levels can be treated by diet and medications. That is why measuring your levels of total cholesterol, HDL "good" cholesterol and LDL "bad" cholesterol, is important to do regularly. Consider an ‘advanced lipid test’, which gives even more information on cardiovascular risk. Medicare will usually cover these blood tests.
  • Vaccinations. People older than age 65 should get a pneumococcal vaccine to protect against pneumonia. Anyone older than age 50 should get an annual flu shot. A tetanus booster is recommended every 10 years and a one-time tetanus that also has pertussis vaccine (whooping cough) in it.

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