It’s no secret that people are living longer and there are more older people! In fact, in 2010, it was estimated that the U.S. alone had over 70,000 centenarians—people who had lived to be a hundred years old or more.
One secret to living longer is taking care of yourself
How do you stay healthy? Our bodies do change as we age, but there are many things you can do to stay in good condition. Your first line of defense is your doctor, keeping him or her informed of any changes you notice, and following through on recommended tests and instructions. More and more, however, individuals are expected to take responsibility for their own health—identifying problems at an early stage, and being a partner in their health care.
Living a healthy lifestyle can help you deal with normal aging changes and make the most of your life. Here are some guides.
- If you do smoke, quit.
- Eat well—avoid foods with high sugar, salt and fat content.
- Stay at a healthy weight.
- Get regular exercise—make it fun, dance or walk with a partner.
- Protect your skin with sunscreen.
- Drink alcohol only in moderation.
- Get regular checkups, tests and screenings.
Why are tests and screenings important ?
- Screening tests can find health problems before symptoms appear.
- Regular check-ups and tests can identify a disease or health problem early on when it is easier to treat, so that further complications can be avoided.
What are the key screenings?
Some tests are routine for everyone; blood pressure checks, vision, hearing, dental, for example. The best screenings for you may depend on your age, gender, or family history of disease. If you are at risk for a disease, you and your doctor will decide whether you should be tested for it and what you will do if you have the condition. Screenings can be a warning for people to follow up with their doctor or take action, such as stopping smoking or reducing the salt in their diet.
Let’s talk about some of the more common screenings:
- Blood pressure. Blood pressure readings should be taken at least every year. These are quick, with the doctor or nursing assistant using a blood pressure cuff around your arm.
- Cholesterol. For cholesterol, typically a simple blood draw is used. It should be done at least every two years, and more often if you are at risk for heart disease.
- Dental exam. Make sure you see your dentist once or twice a year for routine cleanings. Hidden infections in your mouth can affect other parts of your health. Keeping your teeth and gums healthy and disease-free ensures that you can eat foods comfortably and maintain a healthy diet.
- Vision exam. Keeping your eyes in good shape is critical to balance, fall prevention, and driving safety. Once a year, your vision provider should check for vision problems such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism.
- Mammogram. This special x-ray scans breast tissue for early signs of cancer. Women between the ages of 50 and 74 should have a mammogram every two years. While it can be uncomfortable, a mammogram is rarely painful. If you have sensitive or fragile skin or a skin condition, let the technician know before you have your exam.
- Depression. Your doctor may ask you a series of questions to see if you have any of the signs of depression, such as loss of interest in life, changes in sleep or appetite, or feelings of hopelessness. There are medical treatments for depression–you do not have to just live with it.
Annual Wellness Visit
The Health Care Reform law passed last year provides an annual wellness visit and personalized prevention plan for every Medicare member. You are eligible for the exam every year, starting 12 months after your “Welcome to Medicare” visit. You will not have any co-pays or extra charges for that visit—proof that Medicare wants to keep you healthy by identifying problems early and taking a preventive approach. During that visit, your doctor will discuss any tests or screenings you should have and possible follow up actions. Make sure you set up this appointment with your doctor.
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health. With the information above, you and your doctor can be good partners in your health care!
Jodi Cohn, Dr.P.H.
SCAN Health Plan
Jodi Cohn, Dr.P.H. is Geriatric Practice Innovation Research Director at SCAN Health Plan® in Long Beach, California. With a Master’s degree in urban planning, public administration and gerontology from USC and a doctoral degree in Public Health from UCLA, she has many years of experience in planning and evaluating health services for older people.