Preventive Care for Seniors

Last Updated January 2024 | This article was created by editorial staff and reviewed by Deepak S. Patel, MD, FAAFP, FACSM

Preventive services are important for everyone, especially for older adults. This is because your risk for health problems increases as you age. By preventing problems, or identifying them early, you are more likely to live a longer, healthier, and more satisfying life.

What are preventive services? Many physicians follow service guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. This expert panel reviews research and advises doctors about which preventive services you need depending on your age, medical history, and family history. Preventive services include screenings, vaccinations, and health advice.

Path to improved health

The following preventive services are especially important for older adults.

Annual wellness exam

Visit your doctor once a year for a physical. They will measure your height, weight, and body mass index. Your doctor will talk with you about any medicines you’re taking, your eating habits, and your activity level. This exam is a good way to check your overall health.

Influenza vaccine

This yearly vaccine helps prevent influenza (the flu). Older adults should get this vaccine every year. Between 70 and 85% of the deaths from influenza are in people 65 years of age or older. A high-dose vaccine is available and recommended for people 65 years of age or older.

Pneumococcal vaccines

Currently, there are multiple vaccine varieties available to protect against pneumococcal disease. They are classified as conjugate vaccines and polysaccharide vaccines. Two, newer conjugate vaccines are slowly replacing all other varieties. The two newer versions of the pneumococcal vaccine that have replaced older versions and cover more strains of the infection are PCV20 (conjugate) and PCV15 (conjugate). The numbers represent the number of bacterial strains they protect against. The older vaccines are PCV13 (conjugate) and PPSV23 (polysaccharide).

For people who get bacterial pneumonia, these vaccines help prevent life-threatening complications. This is especially important for older adults since they are more likely to get pneumonia and its complications.

Breast cancer screening

The risk of getting breast cancer increases as you get older. More than 40% of all new breast cancer cases are in women 65 years of age and older. Women between the ages of 50 and 74 should have a mammogram every 2 years to screen for breast cancer. Depending on your breast cancer risk factors, your doctor may recommend you have a mammogram more often.

Colorectal cancer screening

Of new colorectal cancer cases, 60%  are in adults 70 years of age and older. The AAFP recommends screening for colorectal cancer with fecal immunochemical tests, flexible sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy starting at age 50 years and continuing until age 75 years.

The risks, benefits, and strength of supporting evidence of different screening methods vary. Your doctor can discuss options for the type of screening test best for you.

Cholesterol screening

High cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Men 35 years of age and older and women 45 years of age and older should have their cholesterol levels checked on a regular basis. Men and women 20 years of age and older who have risk factors for heart disease should also be tested. Cholesterol levels are checked with a blood test.

Diabetes screening

Diabetes is very common in older adults. It affects 1 out of every 4 adults 65 years of age and older. If you are overweight or have obesity, your doctor may test you for diabetes, even if you don’t have symptoms.

High blood pressure screening

The possibility of developing high blood pressure increases as you get older. Your doctor will probably check this each time you are in the office, and at least once a year.

Osteoporosis screening

The risk of osteoporosis increases as you get older. Women who are 65 years of age and older should be tested for osteoporosis. This test is called a bone mass (or bone density) test.

Things to consider<

More than half of adults 65 years of age and older are not up to date with the preventive services doctors recommend. Skipping these services can be dangerous. That’s because some diseases and conditions may not be found in time for effective treatment.

Many seniors don’t get these services because they’re concerned about cost. However, most insurance and Medicare plans cover all costs of preventive services.

Questions for your doctor

  • How often do I need to have each screening?
  • How is each screening done?
  • Can I get all these tests done at my yearly doctor appointment?
  • Should I schedule a preventive visit separately or can it be done during my medication follow-up visit?
  • Are there things that make me more likely to have a certain disease or condition?

Resources Preventive & Screening Services


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