Your doctor provides preventive services to help you avoid health problems or to identify them early. In many cases, problems that are found early are more likely to better respond to treatment. Many physicians follow guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. This expert panel reviews evidence from research very carefully and advises the doctor about which preventive services you need depending on your age, medical history, and family history. Preventive services include screening tests, vaccinations, and health advice.
Why are preventive services important for older adults?
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 at an early stage, you are more likely to live a longer, healthier, and more satisfying life.
Sometimes, older adults do not get the vaccinations, screenings, and other preventive services that experts recommend. The following preventive services are especially important for older adults:
- Influenza vaccine: This yearly vaccine helps prevent influenza (the flu). Older adults should get this vaccine every year. About 85% of the deaths from influenza are in people 65 years of age or older.
- Pneumococcal vaccines: The pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV) and pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) are both important to help prevent pneumonia. For people who have pneumonia, it helps prevent life-threatening complications. This is especially important for older adults. They are more likely to get pneumonia and develop complications.
- Breast cancer screening: Nearly half 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 that you have a mammogram more often.
- Colorectal cancer screening: Two out of every 3 new colorectal cancer cases are in adults 65 years of age and older. Beginning at 50 years of age and continuing until 75 years of age, all adults should be screened for colorectal cancer. Your doctor can discuss options for the type of screening tests available.
- Diabetes screening: Diabetes is very common in older adults. It affects almost 1 out of every 4 adults 60 years of age and older. Particularly if you are overweight or obese, your doctor may test you for diabetes, even if you don’t have any 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 seen in the medical office, and at least once a year.
- Cholesterol screening: High cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Men 35 years of age and older should have their cholesterol levels checked on a regular basis. Women 45 years of age and older who are at risk for coronary heart disease should also be tested. Cholesterol levels are checked with a blood test.
- 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.
Does Medicare cover preventive services?
If you are a Medicare patient, you do not have to pay for the preventive services that Medicare currently offers. Medicare patients also get a free annual doctor visit to check their health risks.
- Enhancing Use of Clinical Preventive Services Among Older Adults (PDF) by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Administration on Aging, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services ( April 12, 2012, http://www.cdc.gov/features/PreventiveServices/Clinical_Preventive_Services_Closing_the_Gap_Report.pdf)
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.