Every year, Dolores Miles notices that her bones are becoming more brittle, her eyesight is getting a little worse, and she is having more trouble walking up and down stairs.
“Age takes a toll on our bodies and we have to deal with and accept that we are not as healthy as we were when we were 25,” said the 71-year-old McKinney resident. In addition to an annual wellness check-up, she also receives regular other health checks, including a bone density scan, a colonoscopy, and an eye exam.
Such recommended checkups check for irregularities and risk factors before you notice symptoms, but most older Americans don’t get them, even though some checkups are covered by insurance or Medicare. According to various medical groups, around 70 percent of Americans between the ages of 50 and 64 have at least one chronic illness or disease, such as cancer or diabetes, that could be detected, treated, and even prevented early through regular health exams.
“Less than half of those over 65 use prevention services,” says Dr. Namirah Jamshed, associate professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and a practicing physician. “There are many obstacles for older people. It could be something as small as they need someone to take them or it could be their personal belief or they don’t think it will add to their general wellbeing. “
Skipping recommended checkups could mean missing out on the opportunity to prevent a chronic condition, successfully treat an early-detected disease, and improve and potentially extend a person’s quality of life, says Dr. Jennifer Orbegoso Attmore, who specializes in geriatric medicine at Texas Health Adult Nursing in Plano.
“Many therapies make a difference if we intervene early. Detecting breast cancer early can lead to targeted therapies to get the disease under control,” she says.
Thanks to the SilverSneakers program, Dolores Miles, the retired headmistress, trains for free at the 24-hour fitness center in McKinney.(Anja Schlein / Special Contributor)
Start with an annual wellness exam, which is free under Medicare and most insurance, and includes plenty of checkups like blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels, as well as tests that look for signs of infection, anemia, and more, doctors say.
Here are some other key recommendations from Attmore, Jamshed, and national health experts from the U.S. Department of Health, the U.S. Task Force on Preventive Services, the American Heart Association, and the American Lung Society:
Diabetes: High blood sugar levels can cause diabetes, which can lead to other health problems. People aged 40 to 70 who are overweight or have high blood pressure should have tests at least every three years.
Blood Pressure: High blood pressure can cause strokes, heart attacks, and other problems. Have yourself checked every year.
Cholesterol: A high cholesterol level increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Get checked-ups every four to six years, and more often if you use tobacco, are overweight, or have had a family history of heart attacks.
Colon cancer: Screening can find and remove precancerous polyps in the colon or rectum, or find and treat early-stage cancer. Ask if you need a colonoscopy or a simpler home test. Get a check-up when you are 50 to 75 years old.
Osteoporosis: Bones can become more brittle with age. Women should have a bone density test such as a DEXA scan when they are 65 years old. At this age, Medicare pays screening every 24 months. Men should be screened around the age of 70, but Medicare may not pay for it.
Eyesight: Older adults are more prone to glaucoma and macular degeneration, but symptoms may not appear until they are advanced. Poor eyesight can lead to falls and a deterioration in quality of life. If you are over 50, have an eye exam every year.
Lifestyle Screenings: Health professionals are increasingly asking older adults questions about depression, risk of falling, diet, fitness, and smoking.
Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm: If you are 65 to 75 years old and smoke or have smoked, consider an ultrasound to detect a bulge in your abdominal aorta that can burst and kill you.
Prostate cancer: A PSA test will show if your blood has high levels of a certain protein that increases your risk of prostate cancer. Talk to a doctor about when to start screening.
Cervical Cancer: According to the American Cancer Society, most cervical cancer occurs in women who have never had a Pap test or recently had one. Until the age of 65, women should have a Pap smear every three years and / or an HPV test every five years. Older women and those who have had a hysterectomy should consult their doctor.
Breast cancer: Early checkups can detect cancer before a lump is felt. Women aged 55 and over should have a mammogram every two years, possibly more often in women with a family history or a gene mutation such as BRCA.
After several friends who haven’t had regular mammograms are diagnosed with breast cancer, Linda Patterson of Highland Village is tested every year.
“I want to know what has developed,” she says. “I believe that being able to detect any disease early is very important to the success of any treatment you may need.”
Seniors took a pre-pandemic aqua aerobics class at 24 Hour Fitness.(24 hour fitness)
The fitness bonus: you may be able to train for free
What better incentive to exercise than a free gym membership or access to online fitness classes?
If you are 65 or older, you can qualify for this and for more.
Three fitness programs – Renew Active, Silver & Fit, and SilverSneakers – are included in certain Medicare Advantage and Medigap plans offered by private insurers to help seniors stay healthy. Each offers free membership to many community and fitness centers across Texas, such as 24-hour fitness and youfit, online classes, and social clubs. Renew Active also offers online brain games, and Silver & Fit has fitness kits for the home and a rewards program.
Tony Ueber, CEO of 24 Hour Fitness, said all three programs are popular. In Texas, about 15 percent of members over 65 participate in one of these programs, he says.
“Fitness is important to building a healthy immune system that can withstand disease,” says Ueber. “We know the club community is an important part of a club member’s fitness journey.”
In fact, regular exercise, combined with good food and recommended checkups, offers many health benefits, can help prevent or control many age-related health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, and can help extend your independence.
About a year ago, retired school principal Delores Miles, 71, came to 24 Hour Fitness near her home in McKinney via SilverSneakers. Because it’s free: “I’m more motivated because gym membership is a bit expensive, especially for retirees,” she says.
Miles exercised at home during the pandemic but returned to the gym last month to swim, run on the treadmill and take classes for seniors only after receiving her second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
With SilverSneakers and Silver & Fit, you can check online that you are eligible for your Medicare plan and find Medicare plans that include those programs. You can search for participating gyms on these two websites, as well as on Renew Active.
Silver & fit: silverandfit.com
Actively renew: uhcrenewactive.com