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Patient education: Preventive health care for older adults (The Basics)

Patient education: Preventive health care for older adults (The Basics)

What is preventive health care? — This is any medical treatment or test you do to try to prevent a health problem. Some of the most important preventive steps you can take are listed below.

Lead a healthy lifestyle – People don't tend to think of lifestyle changes as a form of "treatment." But the truth is, lifestyle changes are often just as effective as, or even more effective than, any medicine you can take. If you have healthy habits, you are less likely to develop many health problems than people who do not have these habits. A healthy lifestyle includes getting plenty of physical activity, eating healthy foods, keeping a healthy weight, limiting alcohol, and avoiding smoking.

Get the right vaccines – Vaccines are shots that help protect you from certain diseases. They help prevent infections such as the flu and pneumonia. If you are 65 or older, you should get:

The flu vaccine once a year – Ask about getting the high-dose version, if it is available. In older people, the high-dose version works a little better than the standard-dose version. But the standard dose is also helpful.

A pneumonia vaccine – Some people might need 2 vaccines for this.

Vaccines to prevent COVID-19

The shingles vaccine once

A tetanus-diphtheria ("Td") vaccine booster, probably once every 10 years. (A "booster" is a vaccine dose you get some time after the first dose. It reminds the body how to prevent an infection.) Some experts think that it's OK to have Td boosters less often.

Get screened, when screening might help – "Screening" refers to any test that looks for early signs of a disease before the disease causes symptoms or problems. The most well-known screening tests are those that check for cancer, but other screening tests also exist.

All people age 65 and older should ask their doctor which forms of cancer screening might be appropriate for them. As you get older, some screening tests might no longer be needed. If your doctor suggests that you no longer need a screening test, such as a Pap test, mammogram, or colon cancer test, this does not mean that they think you are too old to care about. Rather, since many cancers take a long time to develop, screening as you get older might not be helpful and can even be harmful. That's because in some cases, screening can lead to unnecessary treatment.

Males should get screened for a condition called "abdominal aortic aneurysm" once between the ages of 65 and 75 if they have ever smoked or have a close relative who died from or needed surgery for an abdominal aneurysm. This condition is a swelling of the main blood vessel that feeds the lower half of the body.

Females age 65 and older should get screened for osteoporosis (a bone-thinning disorder).

See your doctor or nurse regularly – During each visit, you will likely have several routine tests. These tests are important for keeping track of your health. For example, the doctor or nurse will probably check your blood pressure and weight, and ask about your mood. They might also check your cholesterol level, depending on what other health issues you have. They will review your medicines. They might suggest stopping any medicines that are less helpful and that can cause side effects as you get older.

Take medicines that can prevent problems – Some people need to take medicines to keep from having heart attacks, strokes, or other problems. For example, many people in this age group also take calcium and vitamin D to reduce the risk of breaking a bone.

Why is my age important? — As you get older, the way your body responds to medical problems changes. For example:

Your body cannot fight infections as well. That's why it is more important to get certain vaccines.

The way your body responds to medicines can also change as your get older. That's because the liver and kidneys, which break down medicines, do not work as well as they once did.

Certain diseases also become more common as people age. Most forms of cancer and heart disease, for example, develop more often in older people than in younger people.

Remember, though, that getting older does not have to mean that you get sicker or frail. Always check with your doctor about any changes in your body or your health. That way, you can find out if the changes might be a problem, and if there are any treatments that might help.

How else can I stay as healthy as possible? — You should:

Take care to avoid falling – Here are some things that might help:

Make sure that all walkways in your home are well lit and clear of clutter, electrical cords, and loose rugs. Tuck electric cords out of the way, and secure them to the wall or floor. Check that your loose rugs have nonskid backing, so they won't slip (figure 1).

Wear sturdy, comfortable shoes.

Try to stay active. People who do some form of exercise are less likely to fall than people who don't.

Review your medicines with your doctor. Some medicines, such as sleeping pills, can increase your risk of falling and can be unsafe to use as you get older.

Ask your doctor if it is still safe to drive – This is a tough question to ask, but it's important. As people get older, they sometimes have vision and hearing loss, and they react more slowly to things. These changes can increase the risk of car accidents.

Talk to your doctor or nurse if you have trouble controlling your bladder or bowels – Not being able to control your bladder or bowels is called being "incontinent." If you have this problem, don't be embarrassed to bring it up at the doctor's office. Many treatments are available.

Keep an up-to-date medicine list – Always bring your medicine list with you when you see the doctor or nurse. You can find an example at the following website: www.fda.gov/drugs/resources-drugs/my-medicine-record.

Get help with bills or meals if you need it – If you cannot afford to pay your bills or have trouble making meals for yourself, there might be services in your area that can help. This website is a good place to start: www.eldercare.acl.gov/Public/Index.aspx.

Stay socially connected – Social connection is important to good health. Tell your doctor or nurse if you spend almost all of your time alone. They can help you find ways to meet new people and become involved in new activities.

Tell your doctor if you are being hurt, neglected, or cheated — If any of your family members or caregivers are mistreating you, stealing money, or taking advantage of you in any way, tell your doctor. They can get you the help you need.

More on this topic

Patient education: Exercise and movement as you get older (The Basics)
Patient education: Diet and health (The Basics)
Patient education: Weight loss treatments (The Basics)
Patient education: Quitting smoking (The Basics)
Patient education: Vaccines for adults (The Basics)
Patient education: Cancer screening (The Basics)
Patient education: Preventing falls in adults (The Basics)
Patient education: Time to stop driving? (The Basics)
Patient education: Elder abuse (The Basics)

Patient education: Diet and health (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Quitting smoking (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Vaccines for adults (Beyond the Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Jun 02, 2024.
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