16 Common Preventive Health Screenings for the Elderly

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Though a cliché, prevention is better than cure, it’s true as well, particularly for elders. Rita details 16 common preventions for our seniors. Often, they ignore their preventive health cares, which cause major problems later. Here’s an insight into health care of elders, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.

Periodic health check-ups and screenings can help find medical problems before they even start. They also can help detect problems early, improving chances for treatment and cure. While regular preventive check-ups and necessary diagnostic tests are important for everyone, they are even more important for the elderly. At www.arogyahomecare.in we believe that when seniors are proactive about their health and are regular in monitoring changes in their body, they usually lead a more active, healthier life.

Here are some of the essential tests that the elderly should get done and have the reports reviewed by a trained physician.

1) Blood Pressure

High blood pressure or hypertension significantly increases the risk for stroke or heart attack and is often undiagnosed because symptoms may not show up until it’s too late. Even if a senior has normal blood pressure, which is usually around 120 by 80, it is essential to have their blood pressure checked at least once a year. They should have their blood pressure screened more often if their blood pressure is higher than normal or if they have other risk factors.

2) Blood Sugar

Diabetes is a potentially life-threatening condition that can be detected early through periodic tests. Seniors who have normal blood sugar levels should have their blood sugar screened with a fasting blood sugar test. A reading of less than 99 is normal, a reading between 100 and 110 indicates pre-diabetes, and a reading higher than 110 indicates diabetes. Seniors with pre-diabetes and diabetes should have an additional test, HbA1C, which indicates the average blood sugar levels over the previous three months. Seniors with normal blood sugar should have an annual test, while those with other risk factors for diabetes should be screened more often.

3) Lipid Profile

Maintaining healthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels decrease the risk of a heart attack or stroke. It is important for seniors to have their levels of total cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL (good cholesterol) and LDL (bad cholesterol) tested. The LDL and triglycerides should ideally be less than 130 and HDL more than 60. Seniors with normal readings can have the test done once in two years, while those with heart disease or diabetes should have their lipid profile tested annually.

4) ECG

An electrocardiogram or ECG checks for the risk of heart disease and it’s important for seniors to get an ECG done annually. Those with existing heart conditions should follow their doctors’ advice regarding the frequency of ECG.

5) Thyroid Hormone Test

Thyroid, a gland in the neck that regulates the body’s metabolic rate, may stop producing enough hormones, leading to weight gain or weight loss, sluggishness, fatigue, and depression. A simple blood test can check a senior’s level of the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and determine if their thyroid is functioning properly or not.

6) Eye Exam

Eye diseases, such as macular degeneration, cataracts, and glaucoma, are common with age. Seniors who wear glasses or contacts should have their eyes screened annually. Seniors who don’t wear glasses or contacts should also ideally have their eyes screened once a year and consult a doctor immediately with new or worsening vision problems.

7) Hearing Test

Hearing loss is often a natural part of aging. Sometimes hearing loss can be caused by an infection or other medical condition. Seniors should get an audio-gram every two to three years to detect any sign of hearing loss.

8) Bone Density Scan

A bone density scan measures bone mass, which is a key indicator of bone strength. Millions of elderly people across the world are affected by osteoporosis, which significantly increases a senior’s risk of fractures and permanent disability. While both men and women are at risk for this condition, more women are affected by osteoporosis. Women are usually asked to have a bone density test at age 65. However, if a woman is at a higher risk, a screening test may need to be done at an earlier age.

9) Periodontal Exam

Oral health becomes more and more important as one grows older and dental issues may lead to loss of natural teeth. In addition to having their teeth cleaned, ideally twice a year, seniors should visit their dentist for a periodontal exam once a year, so any problems with their mouth, teeth, gums, and throat can be detected early.

10) Liver Function Test

Seniors should have an annual liver function test to screen for liver conditions like liver damage, fatty liver, or Hepatitis C, and B.

11) Vitamin D Deficiency

Vitamin D deficiency is a very common condition and it is important for seniors to maintain healthy levels as a deficiency of vitamin D increases the risk of bone loss and osteoporosis. A reading of less than 30 indicates a vitamin D deficiency.

12) Electrolyte Test

The main electrolytes in the body are potassium and sodium. Seniors may develop an imbalance of one of the electrolytes and this test is useful in evaluating cases where kidney disease, high blood pressure or heart failure is suspected and if certain medications have been prescribed.

13) 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. Most doctors suggest starting the screening after crossing the age of 50.

14) Mammogram

Mammograms can detect breast cancer in its early stage. Many doctors recommend that women between the ages of 45 to 54 should have a clinical breast exam and an annual screening mammogram, while women over 55 should have an exam every two years or every year if their risk for breast cancer is high because of family history.

15) Pelvic Exam and Pap Smear

Many women over age 65 may need a regular pelvic exam and Pap smear. Pap smears can detect cervical or vaginal cancer, while a pelvic exam helps with health issues like incontinence or pelvic pain.

16) Colonoscopy

A colonoscopy is a test where a doctor uses a camera to scan the colon for cancerous polyps, which are an abnormal growth of tissue. The polyps are usually removed and biopsied as part of the procedure. After the age of 50, you should get a colonoscopy every 10 years. The test should be done more frequently if polyps are found, or if one has a family history of colorectal cancer.

Reference: http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/guide/milestone- medical-tests- 60-up

©Rita Bhattacharjee

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Rita Bhattacharjee is a communications consultant with extensive experience in managing corporate and internal communications for companies across diverse industries, including non-profit organizations. She is the co-founder of Mission Arogya and Arogya HomeCare and has recently relocated from the US to India to channel her skills towards social entrepreneurship to increase awareness and reduce disparity in public health. She also writes poetry, some of which have been published in reputed international journals.