Many seniors visit the doctor when they are sick to get healthy again, but it’s just as important to schedule regular preventive care visits. Preventive care includes regular exams, check-ups, vaccines, and screenings. While regular doctor visits may seem costly now, they more than pay off in the long term by saving money, worry, and time in the future. Any warning signs of disease can be caught early with preventive care, and vaccines protect seniors against harmful infections and viruses.
Due to the rapid growth of the senior population, one of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s key public health strategies is focusing on increasing the use of preventive services by adults 50 and older. Despite its efforts, the CDC has found that only 25 percent of adults 50 to 64 are up to date on preventive services, and less than 50 percent of adults over 65 are up to date. These statistics may be surprising since these services are covered in part or completely by most insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid.
It’s especially important for seniors to be proactive with their preventive care because the immune system weakens with age, according to Dr. Andrew Duxbury, an associate professor in the gerontology, geriatrics, and palliative care division at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine.
“When older people get the flu and get knocked down further, they are more likely to get other infections such as pneumonia,” Duxbury said. “Just being knocked into bed for as little as three or four days can, in a very frail older person, make it so they lose the ability to talk and do for themselves. It can cause a spiral in disabilities and increase chances of falls and injuries.”
Over 60 percent of flu-related hospitalizations every flu season are of patients 65 and over. The flu vaccine is one of the most important components of preventive care for seniors. The CDC estimates that between 80 and 90 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths occurred in those 65 and older. Dr. Duxbury said that prevention is the best defense against the flu. Along with the vaccine, seniors should frequently wash their hands and avoid crowds.
Along with the seasonal flu vaccine, seniors should stay up to date on the Tdap vaccine (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis). The CDC also highly recommends that those over 65 get pneumococcal vaccines, which protect against infections in the lungs and bloodstreams, as well as the zoster vaccine, which protects against shingles. Half of the estimated 1 million Americans that get shingles every year are 60 or older.
The following is a list of important preventive screenings for seniors from Everyday Health:
Annual exam. A doctor will check weight, measure body mass index, and discuss any health issues or symptoms experienced, and schedule any additional screenings needed.
Blood Pressure Test. This test will take place during an annual exam, or more often for those with high blood pressure.
Breast and Cervical Cancer. Women should be screened regularly through examinations, annual mammograms, and possibly a breast ultrasound. Regular pap smears should continue into senior years, although some women may be able to stop after age 65.
Cholesterol screening. Depending on the risk factors, a doctor will run this blood test periodically to measure cholesterol levels.
Colorectal cancer. This screening starts at age 50 (or earlier with a family history) and how recurring screenings will be determined by results.
Diabetes screening. This blood sugar test is usually done at least every three years.
Osteoporosis. This bone density screening is recommended for everyone over 65, or earlier for those with an increased risk due to low body weight, non-traumatic fracture, or taking high-risk prescription medications.
Prostate cancer. Men should consult their doctors to determine the right screening schedule for this disease if in a high-risk group.
Thyroid function. This test for hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) or hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) is recommended for those in their senior years.
Seniors should talk with their doctors to figure out which vaccines and screenings are recommended for them, and create a preventive care plan to maintain good health and live longer, healthier lives.
Written by Taylor French, Amada contributor.