10 Medical Tests Every Older Adult Should Take

Maintaining physical fitness and mental well-being is essential to a longer and happier life.

There are about two dozen tests or screenings that older adults can get to help ensure optimal health and fitness, based on recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel of primary care and prevention experts, and Medicare’s coverage of preventive health services. .

Of course, exactly which tests you need depends on a number of factors, including your age, weight, gender, family history and risk factors, as well as your doctor’s recommendations.

The Affordable Care Act mandates preventive care without cost sharing, so in 2011 Medicare began offering a range of free preventive health services. Some services may need to be ordered during the annual wellness visit to be covered; otherwise, you may have to cover the cost out-of-pocket or through private insurance.

“People are living into their 90s, independently and in the community, and they love it. But to get there, you have to do these things,” said Richard Besdine, a professor of medicine and public health at Brown University. “Not all of them are fatal diseases, but they can take the fun out of life. And what’s the point?”

Besdine said a Mediterranean-style diet and daily exercise are at the top of the list of the most important habits for aging well. Getting enough sleep is also important, as is quitting smoking and limiting alcohol.

Mental health is just as important. Many older adults face depression, loneliness and isolation amid life changes such as losing a partner. Ask your doctor for a depression screening if you or a loved one is showing signs of depression.

And keep up with vaccines like those against COVID-19, shingles and the flu. Also consider getting the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23), which helps protect against meningitis and bloodstream infections, and the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13), which protects against pneumonia.

Here’s an overview of the routine tests you should have as an older adult:

Eye test
Eye health can gradually deteriorate as people age, but the changes may not be noticeable right away. Poor vision can affect your ability to drive, get around the house, and perform everyday tasks. The risk of eye problems such as cataracts and glaucoma also increases with age.

In addition, recent research has found that up to 100,000 cases of dementia in the US could potentially be prevented with better eye care.

According to a study published this year in JAMA Neurology, one of the best things you can do to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias is to correct vision problems with eye exams, glasses and cataract surgery.

Researchers found that about 1.8% of dementia cases in the U.S. were associated with visual impairment, and they predict that total will increase to about 250,000 cases by 2050. The investigators also found that the incidence of impaired vision among older adults was higher among Hispanics, at 11%, compared to an average of 8.3% among black and non-Hispanic white people.

Last year, a study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology also suggested that certain eye conditions including age-related macular degeneration, cataracts and diabetes-related eye disease may be associated with an increased risk of dementia.

“Avoiding dementia is the No. 1 priority for doctors and patients,” Besdine said. “Do everything you can to maintain your mental and physical health.”

Hearing test
Speaking of dementia, get your hearing tested – and get a hearing aid if you need one.

If you have hearing loss, you have a greater chance of developing dementia, according to a 2020 Lancet commission report that lists hearing loss as one of the main risk factors for dementia.

People with moderate hearing loss were twice as likely to experience cognitive decline as their peers, while those with severe hearing loss faced a fivefold risk, the research found.

In the US, hearing aids are now available over the counter – and cost only hundreds of dollars, rather than the several thousands that prescription devices can cost. The White House estimated that people could save nearly $3,000 by purchasing over-the-counter devices.

Also read: ‘Democratizes what you get’: Hearing aids are now over-the-counter – what you need to know

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Dental exam
Gum disease increases the risk of heart attack. That alone should get you to the dentist, but gum health can also be a good barometer of your overall health. Your teeth, gums, mouth and throat must be checked by a dentist, ideally twice a year. However, Medicare does not cover dental exams, so private insurance or out-of-pocket payments are required.

Blood pressure screening
High blood pressure or hypertension is common; more than half of US adults have it. As you age, your arteries change and become stiffer. If left untreated, hypertension can lead to stroke, heart attack, and heart disease.

Diabetes screening
After age 65, both men and women should be regularly screened for diabetes. The American Diabetes Association recommends that a fasting blood sugar test be performed at least once every three years so that diabetes can be caught early and managed before it becomes a life-threatening disorder.

Breast cancer screening
The Mayo Clinic supports breast cancer screening starting at age 40. Women under 75 should have a mammogram every one to two years, depending on their risk factors. Risk factors include starting menstruation before age 12, family history of breast cancer, dense breasts, and genetic mutations. After age 75, women should discuss the need for continued breast cancer screening with their physician.

Screening for osteoporosis
As you age, your bones become thinner, which can make you more prone to fractures or breaks, especially in your hips and spine. All women over the age of 64 should have a bone density screening at least once a year. Men over 70 should also consider screening for osteoporosis, especially if the condition runs in their family.

Prostate cancer
Prostate cancer is a common disease in men, especially in men over the age of 65. Doctors can check for prostate cancer with a physical exam and a blood test. Some symptoms of prostate cancer include difficulty urinating, unexplained weight loss, or blood in the urine.

Colon cancer screening
Colorectal cancer is more common in older adults, with an average age at diagnosis of 68 in men and 72 in women. If you notice changes in bowel movements, abdominal pain or bleeding, see your doctor.

The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends that adults between the ages of 45 and 75 be screened for colorectal cancer. Screening types include stool tests, flexible sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, and CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy). Adults ages 76 to 85 should talk to their doctor about whether they should continue screening.

Skin examination
The American Cancer Society recommends regular screening for skin cancer. Be sure to ask your doctor to check your skin if you have any unusual marks or skin changes, or if you have a high risk history of skin cancer, have a close relative with skin cancer, or have a weakened immune system.

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