Stay ahead of serious medical concerns and avoid complications related to health conditions.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” It certainly rings true when it comes to our health.
Preventive healthcare—which includes cancer screenings, vaccines, and annual checkups—is the best way to stay ahead of serious medical concerns and avoid complications related to health conditions.
It’s also a smart way to make the most of your health insurance. After all, Medicare covers most preventive care services.
Not sure where to start? First, schedule your annual wellness exam with your doctor, also known as your primary care physician (PCP). Then use the following information to track recommended screenings and care.
General Recommended Care
Colorectal cancer screening: There are a variety of screening options—including flexible sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, and the fecal immunochemical test (FIT). You and your PCP should schedule screenings based on your risk factors, health history, and age.
Cholesterol screening: For all older adults at low risk for cardiovascular disease, a lipid profile is recommended every five years. Your PCP may recommend screening more often depending on your risk levels.
Annual checkup, which includes:
- Blood pressure check
- Full body exam
- Height and weight measurement
- Bloodwork: Yearly bloodwork to rule out any bleeding problems, check glucose levels to detect diabetes, and assess blood electrolyte counts, which can detect kidney problems. Your PCP may also check additional labs depending on your personal and family history.
Dental care: In addition to brushing and flossing twice a day, you should see your dentist regularly for a cleaning and oral exam.
Vision exam: Visit your ophthalmologist every year for a comprehensive eye exam.
Recommended Care for Men
Prostate cancer screening: Depending on your risk factors and health history, your PCP may recommend annual digital prostate exams starting at age 50. Additionally, routine prostate-specific antigen (PSA) screenings may be recommended. Men over the age of 50 should discuss the pros and cons of PSA screening with their healthcare provider.
Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening: Men 65 to 75 years old who have smoked should ask their PCP about this one-time screening.
Recommended Care for Women
Breast cancer screening: For women ages 50 to 74 with no family history of breast cancer, mammograms are recommended every other year. Talk with your PCP about the right schedule for you. In addition, your doctor will perform a clinical breast exam at every checkup, and you should practice monthly breast self-exams at home.
Bone density screening: For women 65 years and older, bone measurement testing (with a tool such as a DEXA scan or DXA) is recommended periodically depending on your risk for fractures, age, and current medications. This screening can show if you have low bone mass (weaker bones than normal) and your likelihood of developing osteoporosis. It’s especially important if you’ve had a fracture.
Pap smear and pelvic exam: For women up to age 65, Pap tests are recommended every three years. Talk with your PCP about your risk factors and the right screening schedule for you.
Vaccines Recommended for Older Adults
Vaccines are an effective way to avoid complications related to certain illnesses, especially if you have a long-term or complex condition. Adults who have certain health conditions should wait to get some vaccines or perhaps not get them at all. Always check with your PCP before getting a vaccine.
- Seasonal flu (influenza) vaccine (very important for most people with chronic health conditions)
- Shingles vaccine (also called zoster vaccine)
- Pneumonia vaccine (also called pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, PCV15, or PCV20)
- Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis vaccine (also referred to as “Tdap”)
- COVID-19 vaccine: If you haven’t been vaccinated at all, get your vaccine. And don’t forget about your booster! For the latest guidance on boosters, check with your doctor or visit cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines.
Recommended Care for People with Diabetes
If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, seeing your doctor regularly is a very important way to stay ahead of serious complications. Your doctor will track your blood glucose levels, review your medications, and advise you about these exams:
Annual eye exam: Your eye doctor should know that you have been diagnosed with diabetes. See your ophthalmologist yearly for a dilated retinal eye exam to assess if high blood sugar has damaged blood vessels in the back of your eyes. Eye exams check for early signs of glaucoma, cataracts, and diabetic retinopathy.
Hemoglobin A1C: This blood test measures your average glucose level during the last three months. It’s the best way to assess how your diabetes is being managed and if you need any changes to your treatment plan. Get an A1C test twice a year—and possibly more often if recommended by your PCP.
Blood pressure checks: People with diabetes have increased risk for high blood pressure, which can put you at a higher risk for stroke and heart attack. That makes regular blood pressure checks very important. You’ll get one at every doctor’s appointment. Your doctor may also recommend you have a blood pressure cuff at home or visit a pharmacy to get your blood pressure checked.
Cholesterol screenings: These tests are another important way to manage your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Kidney health checks: Annual blood and urine tests —typically a urine albumin- creatinine ratio (uACR) test and an estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR)—check for kidney disease.
Foot exams: Nerve damage can cause you to lose feeling in your feet and lower extremities. Be sure to get a foot exam at every office visit. Your PCP will check your reflexes and check your feet for calluses, infections, sores, and loss of feeling. If there’s a problem, such as an ulcer, they may refer you to a foot specialist (podiatrist).
Dental exam: Gum disease is a lesser-known complication of diabetes. When it’s serious, it can make it harder for you
to control your blood sugar and cause infections and other health problems. See your dentist for a cleaning at least every six months, and stay on top of your dental health by flossing and brushing daily.
This article was originally published in the Winter issue of Clover Living magazine.
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Published on 1/18/23
Photo Credit: Getty