You are more susceptible in your senior years to illnesses that can prevent you from leading a long and healthy life. Australian Medical Association Vice President, Dr Tony Bartone, provides recommendations on the tests you should consult your doctor about.
- Health checks continued from your 40s
- Bowel cancer
- Bone density
- Prostate cancer
- Hearing test
If you are aged over 50, it is a good idea to get an annual preventative check-up by your GP. Regular checks you should continue in your 40s also progress into senior years. Skin checks, testicular exams for men and pelvic exams (including the human papillomavirus [HPV] test for women under 70), are all still necessary. Discuss immunisations like the herpes-zoster (shingles) vaccine with your doctor, and get a yearly flu shot after 65.
“Your metabolic health, blood pressure, weight, sugar and cholesterol checks are still essential in your 50s and beyond,” Dr Bartone states. But now that you’re over 50, your doctor may recommend a routine electrocardiogram (ECG) if you’re at risk of heart problems or an attack. “Heart disease is accumulative. It’s not very common to show first signs until in your 70s.” explains Dr Bartone.
Testing for bowel or colorectal cancer for those with no symptoms is advisable between the ages of 50 to 74. “The Australian government sends everybody a Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) kit when they turn 50,” Dr Bartone highlights. A colonoscopy, blood test or scan may further be proposed to aid in screening or to help make a diagnosis.
Your doctor will guide you on how often to do a FOBT, which is non-invasive and can be done at home. But by 2020, every eligible Australian will be offered the test for free every two years. “If you test negative, that's a good screening factor. Routine screening over the age of 50, and for those with a predisposition to bowel cancer, has had a powerful impact on reducing the incidence and severity of bowel cancer. Bowel cancer is estimated to be the second most common cancer in Australia,” shares Dr Bartone.
Osteoporosis causes bones to become thin and fragile. Around 10% of Australians over 50 are afflicted with the condition. “Check for osteoporosis from your 50s, particularly if there are certain lifestyle factors or a family history involved,” Dr Bartone advises.
While smoking, lack of exercise and low calcium intake are some factors that contribute to its development, four times as many women develop this treatable disease over men. Routine painless bone density scans (DEXA) may be suggested if you’re at risk. “It's not a one-size-fits-all situation so it’s a conversation you should have with your doctor,” adds Dr Bartone.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer to afflict men and especially strikes those aged over 65. It is estimated that 16,665 men were diagnosed with it in Australia in 2017. Men over 50 should consult their doctor if they should be checked for it regularly. “That’s influenced by whether you have any symptoms, family history or previous findings,” Dr Bartone points out.
A digital rectal exam and Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test are used to detect it. “If you have any change in the frequency, or hesitancy in urinating, they're usually signs of prostate issues … but not necessarily prostate cancer. So preventative health checks are important,” tells Dr Bartone.
Gradual hearing loss or presbycusis is a normal part of aging and treated with hearing aids or assistive listening devices. In fact, half of all 60 and 70-year-old Australians experience it. But hearing problems can still occur at an earlier age and can be hereditary.
“It becomes an issue particularly with those who have had chronic ear disease or problems growing up,” Dr Bartone says. “People in certain occupational industries also need to have hearing loss monitored.” Get a clinical hearing test and audiogram by an audiologist if you suspect your ability to hear is getting worse.
Test timings are recommended as general guidelines only. If you have a family history or are at high risk of a disease, get checked more frequently according to your doctor’s advice.
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