The Health Tests Seniors Need

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on November 25, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Brenda B. Spriggs, MD, MPH, FACP on November 25, 2014

Tests That Older Adults Need

As you age, your need for regular medical testing usually increases . It may seem troublesome and expensive, but now is when you need to be proactive about your health and monitor changes in your body. Here is an outline of common tests older adults should undergo.  

Blood Pressure Check

One in every three to four 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 71 percent of women between the ages of 65 and 74 have high blood pressure. It’s often called a “silent killer” because symptoms may not show up until it’s too late. Hypertension 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. You should get a colonoscopy every 10 years, and more frequently if polyps are found or if you have a family history of colorectal cancer. A digital rectal exam can be performed to  checks for any masses in the anal canal. A DRE checks only the lower part of the rectum, whereas a colonoscopy scans the entire rectum. Colorectal cancer is highly treatable if caught early. However, almost half of cases are not caught until they have progressed to advanced stages.

Vaccinations

Get a tetanus booster every 10 years.  The CDC recommends a yearly flu shot especially those who are chronically ill. At age 65, ask your doctor about a pneumococcal vaccine to protect against infection. Pneumococcal disease can result in a number of health issues, including:

  • sinusitis
  • meningitis
  • pneumonia
  • 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 as well as 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 like antihistamines, diuretics, and antidepressants. These problems may lead to loss of natural teeth. Your dentist should perform a periodontal exam during one of your twice-annual cleanings. Here, your dentist will X-ray your jaw and inspect your mouth, teeth, gums, and throat for signs of problems.

Hearing Test

Hearing loss often is a natural part of aging. Or it can sometimes be caused by an infection or other medical condition. Every two to three years you should get an audiogram. This 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, about 55 percent of Americans over age 50 either have or are at risk for osteoporosis. Both women and men are at risk for this disease. A bone density scan measures bone mass, which is a key indicator of bone strength.

Vitamin D Test

Over 40 percent of Americans are deficient in Vitamin D.  This vitamin helps protect your bones. It may also defend against heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. As you get older and your body has a harder time synthesizing the vitamin you may need this test performed annually.

TSH 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 like erectile dysfunction (ED). A simple blood test can check your level of the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and determine if your thyroid is under-functioning.

Skin Check

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, about 5 million 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, in 2012, 29.1 million Americans had diabetes. Everyone should be screened beginning at age 45 for the condition. This is done with a fasting blood sugar 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 over age 40 should have a clinical breast exam and an annual screening mammogram. 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 patients at age 50 who are at average risk for prostate cancer, and those age 40 to 45 who are at high risk- a family history of prostate or an immediate relative who has died from the disease.

Learn more about eye health and vision problems

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