The population of older Americans is growing, following the same pattern seen on the global scale. People are living longer than a generation ago, however, with that longevity comes an increased risk of developing non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.
According to a recent study in the American Medical Association’s journal Internal Medicine, baby boomers have greater rates of chronic disease, increased disability, and lower self-evaluated health than members of the previous generation at the same age.
Although you may feel vigorous, healthy, and strong, it’s still important to consult your family physician regularly, to identify any subtle problems that may go unnoticed, in order to avoid greater complications down the road.
Below we’ll outline the 10 most important health checkups that older adults should get and how often to get them.
- Hypertension: The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that all adults between the age of 40 and 64 test their blood pressure every two years, or annually if elevated levels already exist.
- Cholesterol: High cholesterol is a major cause of heart attack and stroke. Men are recommended to check their cholesterol levels every five years beginning at age 34, with women advised to begin their testing at age 44.
- Colonoscopy: Regular colon cancer screenings are recommended for people between the age of 50 to 75, every five to ten years. Individuals with increased risk factors may need to be tested more often, according to their doctor’s evaluation.
- Diabetes: People aged 45 and over should be tested for diabetes every three years, particularly if one is overweight or has other risk factors for diabetes.
- Breast and cervical cancer: Healthy women over the age of forty should have a pelvic exam and pap smear every two to three years to detect early signs of cervical or vaginal cancer. The risk of breast cancer increases as women get older. Therefore, a complete annual breast exam is recommended along with a mammogram every two years, depending on the patient’s risk factors for breast cancer.
- Prostate cancer: Men over age fifty should undergo an annual prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test to detect the early signs of prostate cancer. Men between the ages of 55-69 gain the most benefit from prostate screening.
- Eyes, ears, and teeth: Annual dental checkups and biennial eye exams are an integral part of good health. Women should consider a test for glaucoma at age forty-five. At least a quarter of people aged 65-74 suffer extreme loss of hearing, which in many cases can be corrected with treatment.
- Skin cancer: The incidences of skin cancer have doubled over the past thirty years. And older people, particularly those between the ages of sixty to seventy are more susceptible to the disease, due to cumulative exposure to ultraviolet rays. The good news is that if detected early on, the vast majority of skin cancer melanoma can be treated effectively.Hepatitis C and HIV: If undetected, hepatitis C can linger for years in the body without any apparent symptoms, causing liver damage and cirrhosis. Baby boomers are five times more at risk of contracting the virus than other adults.
- A quarter of Americans living with HIV are fifty-five years and older. HIV testing is recommended for both men and women, particularly individuals that have multiple partners. Testing for other STDs such as gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia is also recommended, as they can exist in the body without any obvious symptoms.
- Vitamin B12: People aged fifty and over have a higher risk of having vitamin B12 deficiency, due to the lining of the stomach becoming unable to effectively absorb the nutrient into the digestive tract. Testing B12 levels every year or two can help people avoid the negative effects of B12 deficiency such as loss of balance and numbing and weakness in the arms and legs.