It is estimated that more than half of adults 65 and older are not current with their health screenings as recommended by their physicians. What makes this particularly risky is that some severe health issues, like high cholesterol and high blood pressure, cannot be determined through experiencing symptoms.

Regular checkups with a physician provides an opportunity to review current medications and the senior’s activity levels and eating habits, as well as ongoing health challenges like issues with balance or falls.

In addition, regular screenings allow physicians to compare test results over time to monitor any health trends that may be concerning.

Common Screening Tests

The age, sex, medical and family history of a senior will determine which health screenings should be pursued and how frequently.  Most screenings are once a year, but some are more frequent and others less so.

Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

A blood pressure test measures the pressure in your arteries as your heart pumps. You might have a blood pressure test as a part of a routine doctor’s appointment or as a screening for high blood pressure (hypertension).  Automated home blood pressure monitors are available and easy to use as well.

Cholesterol

A complete cholesterol test — also called a lipid panel or lipid profile — can measure the amount of cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood.

A cholesterol test can help determine your risk for the buildup of fatty deposits (plaques) in your arteries that can lead to narrowed or blocked arteries throughout your body (atherosclerosis).

Colorectal Cancer

The tests for colorectal cancer include using a scope to examine the inside of the colon (colonoscopy).  If any suspicious areas are found, surgical tools can be passed through the tube to take tissue samples (biopsies) for analysis and remove polyps.

Vision

An eye exam involves a series of tests to evaluate your vision and check for eye diseases. Your eye doctor is likely to use various instruments, shine bright lights at your eyes and request that you look through an array of lenses. Each test during an eye exam evaluates a different aspect of your vision or eye health.

Hearing

A comprehensive hearing evaluation usually involves a physical exam to see if factors such as earwax, inflammation or ear structure issues may be contributing to hearing loss.

He or she may ask you questions about your medical history and any communication difficulties you may be having.

If that points to possible hearing loss, the health care provider will likely recommend a more thorough hearing evaluation with an audiologist. This involves sitting in a soundproof room, wearing earphones and listening to sounds directed to one ear at a time. During the evaluation, a range of sounds in various tones are presented, with the senior indicating each time he or she hears the sound. Each tone is repeated at faint levels to find the softest that can be heard. The responses are recorded on a graph known as an audiogram.

Depression

In some cases, depression may be linked to an underlying physical health problem or medications.

The physician may perform a physical exam and ask questions about the senior’s health.

Lab tests such as a complete blood count or a thyroid test may also be required.

If a psychiatric evaluation is needed, a mental health professional will ask about the senior’s symptoms, thoughts, feelings and behavior patterns. The senior may be asked to fill out a questionnaire to help answer these questions.

Breast Cancer

During a mammogram, which is an exam that uses low-energy X-rays to search for abnormalities, a trained female technician will position the patient’s breasts between two flat plates that will compress them slightly. This will be performed on one breast at a time. The compression is to allow the machine to capture better images of the flattened breast tissue.

The whole mammogram procedure usually lasts about 30 minutes. A radiologist will later examine the resulting images for any abnormalities or signs of cancer.

Cervical Cancer

During a Pap test (or Pap smear), a physician scrapes and brushes cells from the cervix, which are then examined in a lab for abnormalities that could include cells whose changes display an increased risk for cervical cancer.

Bone Density

This test is particularly important for women as they are more susceptible than men to lose the tissue that makes bones fragile and more likely to break.

The test uses X-rays produced by a bone densitometer to measure how many grams of calcium and other bone minerals are packed into a segment of bone. The bones that are most commonly tested are in the spine, hip and sometimes the forearm.

Skin Checks

During these health screenings, a health professional looks for signs of skin abnormalities. People at high risk include those who previously have had skin cancer.

Vaccinations

It is important for seniors to keep their vaccinations current. This would include vaccinations for the following:

  • COVID-19
  • Annual flu
  • Pneumococcal
  • Shingles

Questions to Ask Before, During, and After Screening Tests

As a senior, you should be actively engaged in the health screening process. Your questions and active participation will not only aid your own understanding of your health but provide your physician with additional insight into your medical status.

Questions could include:

  • Why are we doing this particular screening?
  • How often do I need these screenings?
  • What happens during the screening?
  • How will I find out the results?
  • What will the results tell me?

Also, make sure you understand what changes in medications and health practices may be required of you. It would be wise to ask for a written copy of the test results, and find out what the next steps should be. Have a friend or relative accompany you if you have difficulty hearing what may be said or need a second person to ask follow-up questions.

The benefit of these screenings is that understanding your medical condition will help you make better decisions and hopefully result in a long and healthy life.

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