You get one body and you want to keep it moving and functioning. Getting older shouldn't mean you stop. One of the best ways to stay on the move is with preventive health care. Some screenings and tests can help your doctor find problems early, before they cause bigger problems.
Don’t let cost keep you from having these tests. Most health plans, including Medicare, pay for preventive tests. Your doctor can help make the case, if need be. They may also be able to send you to free or low-cost programs.
1. Blood pressure check: High blood pressure can cause a heart attack, a stroke, eye problems and kidney problems without you even knowing your blood pressure is high. That’s why it’s important to get your blood pressure checked, even if you don’t think you have a problem. If your blood pressure is lower than 120/80, at least once every year is usually fine. If it’s higher, your doctor probably will want to check it more often.
2. Cholesterol screening: Heart disease is one of the top causes of death in the U.S. One of its main risk factors is high cholesterol. After you turn 20, you should start getting your cholesterol tested at least once every 4 to 6 years. A simple blood test shows your levels and risk for heart disease.
As you age, your risk for heart disease goes up. If you’re in your 50s, it's important to keep getting screened.
3. Mammogram: Experts agree that this is the best way to find breast cancer early. There's some debate about how often you should get one.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says all women between ages 50 and 74 should have a mammogram every 2 years. The American Cancer Society says if you’re over 40, you should get one each year. Talk with your doctor to determine the best schedule for you, based on your family history and other reasons.
4. Colon cancer screening: Colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. When you turn 50, your chance of getting it goes up. So unless you're at above-average risk, your doctor will probably recommend screenings once you reach that half-century mark.
Tests can help detect colon cancer early. How often you're screened depends on which tests you and your doctor decide you should have, and what the results are. Common screenings include:
- Colonoscopy, usually given once every 10 years
- Fecal occult blood test, which most folks get annually
- Sigmoidoscopy, which most get every 5 years, combined with a fecal occult blood test every 3 years
- Multi-targeted stool DNA testing, which looks for DNA mutations that may signal an issue
- CT colonography, which uses X-rays to take pictures of your colon. The pictures are then put together by computer to help your doctor see if anything’s wrong.
Sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy can also help prevent cancer. During these, your doctor may find and remove precancerous polyps from your colon.
5. Pap test: This test checks for cervical cancer, which is easy to treat when caught early. Although your risk of cervical cancer goes down with age, your need for routine Pap tests doesn’t stop with menopause.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says women ages 21 to 65 should have a Pap test every 3 years. You could also choose to get screened every 5 years once you turn 30 instead using human papillomavirus (HPV) testing or a combination of the Pap and HPV tests if both tests are negative the first time you take them. If you have a higher risk of cancer, you may need a Pap test more often. Your doctor can recommend what’s best for you.
6. Bone mineral density scan: This checks your risk for osteoporosis, a condition that weakens your bones. It's recommended for all women at age 65. If you’re at high risk, your doctor may want you to do it earlier.
This screening also may help men ages 70 and older.
7. Abdominal aortic aneurysm screening: Experts say you should get this if you’re a man 65 to 75 who’s smoked at any point in your life. It’s an ultrasound that looks for an enlarged blood vessel in your abdomen that can cause severe bleeding and death if it ruptures. If your blood vessel is enlarged, surgery can often fix it. If you have a family history of this, talk to your doctor as they may recommend screening.
8. Depression screening: Depression is a common cause of disability in adults, although it’s often overlooked. It can show up with chronic illness and aging. It’s not a normal part of aging, and you can get treatment. If you're feeling sad, hopeless, or not interested in things you used to enjoy, talk with your doctor. They can see if you're depressed by having you fill out a questionnaire or by asking you a few simple questions.
9. Diabetes screening: Nearly 10% of all Americans have diabetes, and nearly 28% of those are undiagnosed. Uncontrolled diabetes can cause complications such as blindness, kidney disease, and the need for limb amputation. Ask your doctor about how often you need diabetes screenings.
10. Immunizations: As you age, you need a few extra vaccines to help you stay healthy, including:
Flu shot: Folks 6 months of age and older should get one every year.
Pneumonia vaccine: A series of two different vaccines is now recommended. You should get them if you're 65 or older, and if you have:
- Liver disease
- Any other type of lung disease
- Problems with your immune system
Shingles vaccine: This is recommended if you're 50 or older.
Remember, there's a lot you can do on your own to stay healthy as you age:
- Don't smoke.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Exercise regularly.
- Keep your weight healthy.
- Practice safe sex.