Annual Medical Checklist For Preventative Health Care

As we age, we need to be proactive about our health and monitor changes to our bodies.  When you schedule regular medical checkups with your doctor and screening tests, you have a better chance of enjoying a longer, healthier life.

doctor recommending screening tests to senior woman

Preventative health care

If you are feeling well physically, regular health checkups are easy to overlook. Many people often skip annual medical exams. But you can’t fix what you don’t know. 

Unlike diagnostic tests, which are performed to determine the cause of symptoms already present, medical screening tests are done for preventative care so that any irregularities come to light before they become serious.

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Preserve your good health for as long as possible by having a yearly physical exam, a review of your medications, and these preventative screenings.  Your doctor may recommend additional tests based on your personal medical and family history.

Annual tests

  • Blood pressure check.  Elevated blood pressure is known as hypertension.  It is often called the “silent killer” because symptoms may not show up until it is too late.  It increases your risk of stroke or heart attack.
  • Vitamin D test.  Older bodies have a harder time synthesizing Vitamin D so it’s easy to become deficient.  This vitamin helps protect your bones and may also defend against heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.
  • Thyroid-stimulating Hormone screening (TSH).  This is a simple blood test to see if your thyroid is functioning properly.  The thyroid is a gland in your neck that regulates your body’s metabolic rate.  If it doesn’t produce enough hormones it can lead to weight gain, sluggishness, or achiness.
  • Eye exam.  Your eye doctor will decide how often vision screening is needed.  Usually, it’s annually if you wear glasses or contacts and every other year if you don’t.  Age increases the chances of eye diseases like cataracts, macular degeneration and glaucoma.
  • Periodontal exam.  Oral health becomes more important as we age. This examination is to rule out oral cancer, combat gum disease and treat tooth decay.   Dental issues may lead to the loss of our teeth.  Also, many seniors take medications such as antihistamines and diuretics that can have a negative effect on dental health.
  • Skin check.  More people get skin cancer than all other cancers combined.  Melanoma is the most dangerous and is common among adults who get greater than normal sun exposure.  The best way to prevent it is to catch it early.  Do a self-check monthly and check with a dermatologist annually or if you see any new or suspicious moles.
  • Vaccinations.  Get a flu shot every year.  Everyone over 60 should get vaccinated against shingles.

Other regular tests

  • Hearing test.  Hearing loss is often a natural part of aging and it needs to be tested if you are having trouble making out what people are saying, hear ringing in your ears or feel a plugged sensation.  Sometimes it can be caused by an infection or other medical condition.  An audiogram checks your hearing at a variety of pitches and intensity levels.  Most hearing loss is treatable. If your audiogram shows you have high-pitch hearing loss you might need a hearing aid. Get tested every two or three years.
  • Diabetes (Type 2) test.  Everyone should be screened for this condition but it occurs most often in those who are overweight and don’t exercise.  Screening is done with a fasting blood sugar test – at least every 3 years, more often if you have other risk factors.
  • Blood tests for lipids/cholesterol.  These tests measure your “good”(HDL) and “bad”(LDL) cholesterol levels.  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.  Check every 5 years if levels are normal.
  • Bone-mineral density scan.    A bone density scan measures bone mass which is an indicator of bone strength.  It determines whether you are at risk for osteoporosis or a fracture.  This can affect both men and women but women especially should get the test at age 65, then follow up every 5 years, as needed.
  • Colorectal cancer exam.  In this test, a doctor uses a camera to scan your colon for cancerous polyps (abnormal growth of tissue).  I know! No one wants to schedule this.  But, colorectal cancer is highly treatable if caught early.  However, many are not caught until they have progressed to advanced stages.  After age 50 you should get a colonoscopy every 5 to 10 years until age 75.  Get them more frequently if polyps were found, or if you have a family history.
  • Tetanus shot. Get a tetanus-diphtheria booster every 10 years.

Additional test for men

  • Prostate cancer screening.  Prostate cancer tends to affect men who are 65 years and older.  It is the most common cancer in men except for skin cancer, but it is not necessarily fatal.  Possible prostate cancer can be detected either by a digital rectal exam or by measuring prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels in your blood. Testing is often not recommended for men with no symptoms.

Additional tests for women

  • Pap smear.  Women need to get regular pelvic exams and Pap smears – once a year until age 65. Pap smears can detect cervical or vaginal cancer.  A pelvic exam helps with issues like incontinence or pelvic pain. 
  • Mammogram.  Not all doctors agree on how often a breast exam and mammogram should be done but generally, every two years to age 75 is best unless you have a family history.  In that case, be tested annually.  

More proactive steps to maintain health

In addition to health screenings, these are some proactive steps you can take to maintain your health and improve your chances of aging well.

  • Work closely with your family doctor to find out how to stay healthy, prevent health problems, and catch illnesses early.
  • Discuss lifestyle changes you can make, such as eating better, quitting smoking, and starting (or maintaining) an exercise routine.
  • If you don’t have a complete record of your family medical history and the illnesses close relatives have, try to put one together.
  • Keep a list of all of your immunizations and ask your doctor what shots would be good for you to have.

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Staying healthy is a collaborative effort between you and your doctor, but it starts with you and your commitment to your health.

The bottom line

Growing older is a fact of life but it doesn’t mean you have to accept the prospect of declining health.  That’s why it’s so important to be aware of preventative health screenings that can help detect if you are at risk for certain conditions.

Make a note to schedule a visit with your dentist and call your doctor each year.  If you prioritize healthy habits and undergo the recommended testing, you can enjoy a healthier lifestyle and safeguard your health for as long as possible.

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