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The Body Audit: Medical Tests Women Aged 60+ Should Take

By Denise Schipani ; Updated August 14, 2017

You’re eligible, or nearly so, for Medicare, and you get reduced-price movie tickets. Hopefully during these so-called Golden Years, you’ll reap other benefits as well, and the fact that you still feel young at heart is a great thing – so don’t take your health for granted.

One thing you can cross off your healthcare to do list now is a PAP test. “After age 65, your risk of getting cervical cancer goes down, so if you’ve had three negative PAPs in the last decade, you can skip it,” says Dr. Sharon Brangman, M.D., professor of medicine at Upstate Medical College of the State University of New York, and past president of the American Geriatrics Society.

Continue to get mammograms, however, and follow up with cholesterol screenings every three years. You might want to talk to your doctor about a cognitive or memory screen. “Sixty-five is a good time for a baseline screen, which most primary-care doctors can do in their offices,” says Dr. Brangman. And keep exercising. You don’t have to run a 10K or twist yourself into pretzel-type yoga poses, but you do have to move every day. Exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of dementia, lower blood pressure and blood sugar--and it will give you more energy to enjoy the grandkids.

Studies have shown that older women who began or maintained weight-training programs improved their overall health in so many ways, including increasing bone mineral density, increasing strength and the ability to perform daily activities, which decreases the risk of falls and injuries. What else you need now...

Vaccine update

The flu vaccine is recommended for just about everyone, but if you’re over 65, it’s especially important, because developing the flu can be dangerous for older people. Other shots you need, says Dr. Brangman: the herpes zoster vaccine, to protect against shingles, a painful condition caused by the same virus that gave you chicken pox when you were a kid (and which lays dormant for decades, but can reactivate later in life).

The United States Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has recommended that adults older than 60 receive the herpes zoster vaccine as part of their routine medical care. It’s a personal decision, but keep in mind that the nerve pain and possible nerve damage from a case of shingles can be severe, and long lasting. Also recommended: a tetanus booster, necessary every 10 years; and a pneumonia vaccine.

Bone density test

According to the latest recommendations by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) all women over 65 should receive routine bone density screenings. The National Osteoporosis Foundation’s guidelines concur. If you haven’t gotten a bone-density test before, do so. If you are or were a smoker, or you used steroids for extended periods in the past (for example, to treat asthma), if you are very thin, have a family history of osteoporosis, or have lost height in the last year, your risk for the disease increases.

Vitamin D test

If you’ve been wisely heeding the warnings about skin cancer, you’ve been wearing sunscreen and staying in the shade. One negative result of less sun exposure, however, is a deficiency in vitamin D, which your body manufactures using sunlight, and which works with calcium to help keep your bones strong.

The older you get, the harder it is for your body to make vitamin D, even if you are spending some unprotected time in the sun, says Dr. Brangman. As a result, you may end up more vulnerable to osteoporosis. Ask your doctor to test your vitamin D level, particularly if you live in the Northeast, or are African-American. Some recent studies have linked higher levels of Vitamin D3 (2000 IUs daily) with lower rates of colorectal cancer, and reduced risks of other cancers including breast and pancreatic, as well as protection against osteoporosis.

Depression screening

Too often it’s assumed that feelings of sadness and hopelessness are an expected part of aging, but they aren’t: According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, depression affects more than 6.5 million Americans who are 65 and older.

Talk to your doctor if you’re feeling blue, uninterested in activities you used to enjoy, or if you have significant sleep or appetite changes. “Your doctor can administer what’s called a Geriatric Depression Scale, which will help him or her understand if you need further treatment,” advises Dr. Brangman.

Once diagnosed the prognosis is good: According to NAMI, 80 percent of clinically depressed individuals can be effectively treated by medication, psychotherapy, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) or any combination of the three.

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