May 2020

Older Adults: Preventive Screenings Are Key for Living a Healthy Life

Preventive health screenings are important at every stage of life. They can prevent diseases and also detect problems early, when treatments work best. Unfortunately, only a quarter of adults ages 50 to 64 and less than half of adults ages 65 and older are getting the preventive care they need.

Receiving screenings as you age could mean living a longer, healthier life. This preventive care can help you continue feeling well so that you can be around for your loved ones for many years to come. Below are some key screenings you may need. Talk with your healthcare provider about whether you should be receiving them.

Colorectal cancer

Medical opinions vary about when to begin screening for colorectal cancer—age 45 or 50. Several tests are available to screen for colorectal cancer. They can be divided into two main categories: stool-based tests and visual (structural) exams. With some tests, such as colonoscopy, if your provider finds growths that could lead to cancer, he or she can remove them during the procedure. Talk with your healthcare provider about which test may be best for you and how often you should receive it. 

Bone density

A bone density test can diagnose osteoporosis, a bone disease in which your bones become weak and can break more easily. The screening uses a special type of X-ray machine that checks your bone density at the hip and spine and estimates your risk of breaking a bone. Women should receive a bone density test starting at age 65, and men should get one starting at age 70. Your provider may recommend starting earlier because of risk factors.

The results of a bone density test are called a T-score. Your T-score shows how your bone density differs from that of a healthy 30-year-old. A T-score of -1.0 or above means that your bone density is normal. The lower your T-score, the lower your bone density. A T-score of -2.5 or below means you have osteoporosis.

Heart disease

Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women. Screenings can help your healthcare provider find out whether you’re at risk for heart disease. Based on your risk factors, your provider will let you know how often you should receive certain heart-health screenings. They include:

  • Blood pressure—a healthy blood pressure is lower than 120/80 mmHg.

  • Cholesterol—a normal cholesterol level is lower than 200 mg/dl.

  • Blood glucose—high blood sugar increases your risk for type 2 diabetes; a normal blood glucose is associated with an Hb A1c level lower than 5.7 percent.  

Lung cancer

If you have a history of smoking, even if you’ve quit, you may qualify for a lung cancer screening. The test is a low-dose CT scan of the chest, which looks for signs of cancer inside your lungs. You may be eligible for a yearly lung cancer screening if you’re age 55 to 74 and you:

  • Currently smoke or quit within the past 15 years

  • Have at least a 30 pack-year smoking history—meaning you smoked a pack a day for 30 years or two packs per day for 15 years

  • Don’t have any lung cancer symptoms, such as coughing up blood or unintentional weight loss




Online Medical Reviewer: Robert Williams, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2020
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