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The Health Tests Seniors Need

Tests that older adults need

As you age, your need for regular medical testing usually increases. Now is when you need to be proactive about your health and monitor changes in your body.

Read on to learn about common tests older adults should get.  

Blood pressure check

One in every three adults has elevated blood pressure, which is known as hypertension. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 64 percent of men and 69 percent of women between the ages of 65 and 74 have high blood pressure.

Hypertension is often called a “silent killer” because symptoms may not show up until it’s too late. It increases your risk for stroke or heart attack. This is why it’s essential to have your blood pressure checked at least once a year.

Blood tests for lipids

Healthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels decrease your risk of a heart attack or stroke. If test results show high levels of either, your doctor may recommend an improved diet, lifestyle changes, or medications to reduce them.

Colorectal cancer exam

A colonoscopy is a test where a doctor uses a camera to scan your colon for cancerous polyps. A polyp is an abnormal growth of tissue.

After the age of 50, you should get a colonoscopy every 10 years. And you should get them more frequently if polyps are found, or if you have a family history of colorectal cancer. A digital rectal exam can be performed to check for any masses in the anal canal.

A digital rectal exam checks only the lower part of the rectum, whereas a colonoscopy scans the entire rectum. Colorectal cancer is highly treatable if caught early. However, many cases are not caught until they have progressed to advanced stages.

Vaccinations

Get a tetanus booster every 10 years. And the CDC recommends a yearly flu shot for everyone, especially for those who are chronically ill.

At age 65, ask your doctor about a pneumococcal vaccine to protect against pneumonia and other infections. Pneumococcal disease can result in a number of health issues, including:

  • pneumonia
  • sinusitis
  • meningitis
  • endocarditis
  • pericarditis
  • inner ear infections

Everyone over age 60 also should be vaccinated against shingles.

Eye exam

The American Academy of Ophthalmology suggests adults get a baseline screening at age 40. Your eye doctor will then decide when follow-ups are needed. This may mean annual vision screenings if you wear contacts or glasses, and every other year if you don’t.

Age also increases the chances for eye diseases like glaucoma or cataracts and new or worsening vision problems.

Periodontal exam

Oral health becomes more important as you age. Many older Americans also may take medications that can have a negative effect on dental health. These medications include:

  • antihistamines
  • diuretics
  • antidepressants

Dental issues may lead to loss of natural teeth. Your dentist should perform a periodontal exam during one of your twice-yearly cleanings. Your dentist will X-ray your jaw and inspect your mouth, teeth, gums, and throat for signs of problems.

Hearing test

Hearing loss is often a natural part of aging. Sometimes it can be caused by an infection or other medical condition. Every two to three years you should get an audiogram.

An audiogram checks your hearing at a variety of pitches and intensity levels. Most hearing loss is treatable, although treatment options depend on the cause and seriousness of your hearing loss.

Bone density scan

According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, 75 million people are affected by osteoporosis in Japan, Europe, and the United States. Both women and men are at risk for this condition, however women are affected more often.

A bone density scan measures bone mass, which is a key indicator of bone strength. Regular bone scans are recommended after age 65, especially for women.

Vitamin D test

Many Americans are deficient in Vitamin D. This vitamin helps protect your bones. It may also defend against heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.

You may need this test performed annually. As you get older your body has a harder time synthesizing vitamin D.

Thyroid-stimulating Hormone screening

Sometimes the thyroid, a gland in your neck that regulates your body’s metabolic rate, may not produce enough hormones. This may lead to sluggishness, weight gain, or achiness. In men it may also cause problems such as erectile dysfunction.

A simple blood test can check your level of the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and determine if your thyroid is not functioning properly.

Skin check

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, over 5 million people are treated for skin cancer in the United States each year. The best way to catch it early is to check for new or suspicious moles, and see a dermatologist once a year for a full-body exam.

Diabetes test

According to the American Diabetes Association, 29.1 million Americans had type 2 diabetes in 2012. Everyone should be screened beginning at age 45 for the condition. This is done with a fasting blood sugar test or a A1C blood test. 

Mammogram

Not all doctors agree on how often women should have a breast exam and mammogram. Some believe every two years is best.

The American Cancer Society says women between the ages of 45 to 54 should have a clinical breast exam and an annual screening mammogram. Women over 55 should have an exam every 2 years or every year if they choose.

If your risk for breast cancer is high because of family history, your doctor may suggest an annual screening.

Pap smear

Many women over age 65 may need a regular pelvic exam and Pap smear. Pap smears can detect cervical or vaginal cancer. A pelvic exam helps with health issues like incontinence or pelvic pain. Women who no longer have a cervix may stop getting Pap smears. 

Prostate cancer screening

Possible prostate cancer can be detected either by a digital rectal exam or by measuring prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels in your blood.

There is a debate about when screening should begin, and how often. The American Cancer Society suggests doctors discuss screening with people at age 50 who are at average risk for prostate cancer. They will also discuss screening with those aged 40 to 45 who are at high risk, have a family history of prostate cancer, or have an immediate relative that has died from the disease.

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