A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Recommended health screenings for older adults

Older man oudoors

Regular check-ups, tests and screenings can ensure that we catch medical problems before they become serious.

As children, providers tell us or our parents when to come in to the doctor and what to expect in the months or years between our visits. However, as we age, this guidance becomes less concrete. Regular doctor visits do not become less important as we age; in fact, regular check-ups, tests and screenings can ensure that we catch medical problems before they become serious.

Difference between tests and screenings

For many patients, contact with providers starts when the patient has a change in their medical condition. This often sparks testing, which providers order when trying to find the cause of a symptom or concern.

On the other hand, screening is testing when no symptoms are present but you are at risk to develop a disease. This can be because of personal or family history or because of age. If the screening shows that a disease or illness is present, then providers can intervene and help you live longer or better.

In addition to regular wellness visits to your doctor, you should be screened for several potential diseases or problems as you age. “The goal is to detect and treat early disease before it becomes a problem that can shorten life or lower the quality of life,” said Dr. Thomas Gabert, an internal medicine physician at Marshfield Clinic Health System with a specialty in geriatrics. “Even if someone is healthy, they should still get recommended screenings. Health care wants to get to a process where patients can own their care and ask, ‘What should I be thinking about at certain ages?”

Men vs. women

While men and women should all receive screenings at recommended ages and in regular intervals, Dr. Gabert explained that there is a gender factor in how men and women often approach screenings.

Women are typically introduced to general screenings at a much earlier age than men. For example, women are encouraged to receive a pap smear to test for cervical cancer every three years beginning at age 21. Therefore, adding additional screenings as you get older is often a simple health care addition.

On the other hand, men often do not have a reason to come in until they hit the ages for regular screenings. “Men often avoid coming in until they are in their older 50s. They then find issues that could have been picked up earlier,” Dr. Gabert said. “As a result, men often find problems in their older years that women get screened for throughout their lifetime.”

As a solution to this discrepancy, health care is getting better at giving guidance to adults. This most often comes in the form of wellness check lists and screening reminders. “I think our goal is to provide patients with information and reminders that combine screening and wellness checks,” Dr. Gabert explained. Adults of all ages can be screened for depression, risky behavior with alcohol or drugs and risks for heart disease such as diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. This is all addition to receiving recommended screenings at older ages.

When it comes to your health, the best thing you can do is stay on top of your appointments and recommended check-ups and screenings. You have resources available to you to take ownership of your health care. The patient portal, My Marshfield Clinic, is your greatest resource for booking appointments, sending and receiving messages from your providers, getting reminders for appointments and upcoming screenings, and accessing your health records.

Recommended screenings for older adults

There are many screenings that older adults should receive at different stages in life. Here are just a few of the most common to consider as you age.

Mammogram – A mammogram screens for breast cancer. Women should regularly get mammograms beginning at age 40. From 40-49, screening can occur every 2 years. Once you hit 50, you should receive a mammogram every 12 months.

Colonoscopy – A colonoscopy screens for colorectal cancer. Men and women should begin to get colonoscopies at age 45. Screening can occur every 10 years.

Depression – A depression screening looks for signs and symptoms of depression. Men and women should get screened for depression starting at age 12. However, this screening is especially important for older adults. As we age, many patients with memory problems deal with withdrawing from others. Depression screening can catch the signs and symptoms so your doctor can work with you on treating the depression before it impacts your overall well-being.

While all older adults should receive regular screenings at the recommended intervals as they are able, screenings are occasionally not suggested. Most often, this happens in a case where patients may not live long enough to benefit from taking the risk of screening and potential treatments. There is no set age at which you become “too old” for screenings. Rather, it is a decision made based on how active and healthy you will be going forward. You and your doctor can decide together what makes sense for you and your health care.

Dr. Gabert explained that patients should discuss their personal goals and expectations as they age with their provider and family. These discussions should be collected in advance care documents. The most important of these is a document that specifies who is the durable power of attorney for health care. It is critical to determine a power of attorney so patient wishes are respected.

The screenings listed above are just a few of the most common recommended screenings for older adults. To learn more about what other screenings you need to schedule and when, what to expect, and how to manage advance care documents, speak with your provider or schedule an appointment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

View our comment policy