Ask the Doctor: Preventive Medicine for Seniors

January 29, 2019

Annual checkups can help prevent major issues

An annual checkup isn’t just for kids — seniors can benefit from regular preventive care. Addressing minor ailments can prevent major issues later. Here, family medicine doctor Mariela Bernal-Irizarry, MD shares why senior preventive services are crucial for keeping small problems from becoming big ones.

Q: Why is it important for seniors to stay current on their physicals?

When seniors come in regularly for physical exams, we can find problems early and treat more effectively with simpler interventions. Even if you feel healthy, it’s important to catch things early. If you’re concerned about costs, insurance often covers the office visit and preventive exam for senior patients.

Q: What vaccines should seniors get annually or every few years?

Annually, everyone should get a flu shot, and a high dose flu shot is recommended for all patients over 65. A tetanus booster is also appropriate every 10 years. To prevent pneumonia and pneumococcal diseases after age 65, patients should receive pneumonia vaccines one year apart. And patients should get a shingles vaccine any time after age 50.

Q: How often does a patient need to come in for a physical?

Each patient should receive a complete physical annually. For healthy patients, once a year is enough. But for other comorbidities like diabetes or high blood pressure, patients should be monitored every two to three months.

Q: What annual tests are appropriate for seniors?

Every patient should be checked annually for blood pressure, height, weight and cholesterol. For women ages 50 to 74, schedule a mammogram every one to two years. Women should also receive a Pap test every three years until age 65, and should receive a bone density screen every two years over 65. Men should be checked annually for a prostate specific antigen blood test between ages 55 and 69. Finally, to screen for colon cancer, every patient should receive a colonoscopy every ten years or have an occult blood test performed annually.

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Consult with your healthcare provider on the recommendations discussed in this article.