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Preventive Measures—at Any Age?

seniors elderly man woman Here are some tips to keep you healthy after you have reached your 50th birthday—and beyond.

Screen Me for What?

There are a number of recommendations from different groups regarding screening procedures. And to be fair, some differ in their recommendations. Based on scientific findings, here is what the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends:
  • Have a test to colorectal cancer. There are several kinds of tests. Talk with your doctor to find out which one is right for you.
  • You may want to consider being checked for depression, especially if you have had feelings of sadness or hopelessness recently.
  • Check your blood pressure at least every two years. A high blood pressure measurement is 140/90 or higher.
  • If you have high blood pressure, your doctor may want to screen you for diabetes.
  • Get a cholesterol test regularly. Your doctor can help you plan a schedule.
  • Have your weight and height checked so your body mass index (BMI) can be calculated. This helps to determine if you are overweight or obese.
  • Certain factors can put you at risk for HIV. If any of the following apply to you, talk to your doctor about getting an HIV test:
    • Unprotected sex with multiple partners
    • Used injection drugs or had partners who did
    • Exchanged sex for money or drugs
    • Had partners infected with HIV
    • Had bisexual partners
    • Treated for sexually transmitted diseases
    • Had a blood transfusion between 1978 and 1985
  • Talk to your doctor about being tested for other sexually transmitted infections.
  • Have a mammogram every 2 years to screen for breast cancer.
  • Have a Pap smear every 3 years. If you have a human papillomavirus test with the Pap smear, you can have the testing done every 5 years. This length of screening applies as long as you have always had normal Pap smears. If you are over 65 years old and previous tests prior to turning 65 were normal, then you do not need any more Pap smears.
  • Have a bone density test once you turn 65 years old to screen for osteoporosis. Women younger than 65 should talk to their doctor about whether they need to be tested.
Of course, there may be other screening tests your doctor may suggest. Also, if you are concerned about any conditions you may think you have or that run in your family, talk with your doctor about being tested for these conditions. For example, you may consider tests for glaucoma or skin cancer. At your doctor's visit, discuss any changes you have noticed in your health, such as vision or hearing changes.

Beyond Screenings, What Should You Do?

In addition to screening tests, USPSTF suggests other ways to maintain your health and prevent serious conditions from creeping up on you.

Prevention in a Pill?

Aspirin has been shown to prevent heart disease and strokes in some patients. Ask your doctor if taking aspirin is right for you.
Make sure to get a flu shot every year. Other shots to consider include those to prevent pneumonia, and shingles. Do not skip immunizations. Influenza and pneumonia vaccines in particular have been shown to prevent hospitalization and death in the elderly population, and potential risks are minimal. Talk with your doctor about which immunizations are right for you.
Also, women who have a family history of breast cancer may want to speak with their doctor about medicines used to prevent breast cancer.

Advice for Every Day

  • Quit smoking, or do not start. Some steps toward quitting include cutting down on the number of cigarettes you smoke each day and switching to a brand that does not taste good. Check out different websites, like http://www.smokefree.gov, that offer ways to kick the habit.
  • Exercise, even if you never have before. If you are new to physical activity, you may want to start off easy. Try to work up to 30 minutes or more of moderate activity most days of the week. Some moderate activities include walking, dancing, swimming, and even mowing the lawn.
  • Eat right. Take your diet seriously. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk products. Also eat lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts. Avoid or minimize your intake of saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt, and added sugars.
  • Watch your weight. Keep track of the calories you consume and the calories you burn off with activities.Work with your doctor to determine your ideal weight.
  • Do not drink alcohol, or only drink in moderation. Moderate drinking typically means only 1 drink/day for women, and 2 drinks/day for men, although a man aged 65 or older should have only 1 drink/day. One drink is equal to one 12-ounce bottle of beer or wine cooler, one 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1½ ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.
  • Maintain a thorough, personal medical file. As we age, our medical care increasingly is handled by a series of specialists. Unfortunately, because of this, your primary care physician may not be fully aware of your medical conditions and ongoing treatment. Maintaining a complete and current listing of all of your treatments, including prescriptions and over the counter medicines, as well as diet and exercise routines, is more important than ever. Take your records with you each time you see a doctor.

RESOURCES

Agency for Research & Quality in Healthcare http://www.ahrq.gov

American Cancer Society http://www.cancer.org

National Institute on Aging http://www.nia.nih.gov

National Institutes of Health http://www.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Public Health Agency of Canada http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca

The College Family Physicians of Canadian http://www.cfpc.ca

References

Annual mammograms now recommended for women beginning at age 40. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website. Available at: http://www.acog.org/About%20ACOG/News%20Room/News%20Releases/2011/Annual%20Mammograms%20Now%20Recommended%20for%20Women%20Beginning%20at%20Age%2040.aspx. Published July 20, 2011. Accessed March 15, 2013.

Cervical cancer screening. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated February 19, 2013. Accessed March 15, 2013.

Mammography for breast cancer screening. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated February 5, 2013. Accessed March 15, 2013.

Men: Stay Healthy at 50+—Checklists for Your Health. AHRQ Publication No. 08-IP002, May 2008. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. Available at: http://www.ahrq.gov/ppip/men50.htm. Updated July 2011. Accessed March 15, 2013.

Osteoporosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated March 4, 2013. Accessed March 15, 2013.

Screening for breast cancer. US Preventive Services Task Force website. Available at: http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf/uspsbrca.htm. Updated July 2010. Accessed March 15, 2013.

Screening for breast cancer. US Preventive Services Task Force website. Available at: http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf/uspsbrca.htm. Updated July 2010. Accessed March 15, 2013.

Screening for cervical cancer. US Preventive Services Task Force website. Available at: http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf/uspscerv.htm. Updated June 2012. Accessed March 15, 2013.

Women: Stay Healthy at 50+—Checklists for Your Health. AHRQ Publication No. 08-IP001, May 2008. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. Available at: http://www.ahrq.gov/ppip/women50.htm. Updated July 2011. Accessed March 15, 2013.

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