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Preventive Care is the Key to Healthy Aging
By Dr. Marylou Buyse, senior medical director of senior markets for Highmark Inc.

When it comes to your health, the expression "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" is good advice to follow. Preventive care, such as screening tests, vaccinations and health advice, is important for older adults, because your risk for health problems increases as you age. By preventing problems, or detecting them early when treatment works best, you can maintain your overall health and well-being.

One simple way to take control of your health is by scheduling an annual wellness visit with your doctor. An annual wellness visit, which is fully covered by Medicare, will enable you to develop a personal prevention and wellness plan with your doctor based on your unique health factors. During this visit, you and your doctor will discuss your current health and risk factors to determine what you need to do to be as healthy as possible. An annual wellness visit may include routine measurements, such as your height, weight, blood pressure and body mass index. You should also be prepared to review your medical history, medication use and your physical and emotional health during the past year.

During your yearly checkup, it's also important to talk to your doctor about screenings and vaccines recommended for older adults. These are a few of the preventive services that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends for older adults:

  • Annual flu vaccine. The best way to prevent the flu is with a yearly flu shot. The flu vaccine is especially important for people age 65 years and older because they are at high risk for complications from the flu.
  • Pneumococcal vaccines. These vaccines protect you against pneumonia, meningitis and bloodstream infections. Your doctor can recommend the appropriate vaccine for you based on your health risk factors.
  • Colorectal cancer screening. Regular screening, beginning at age 50 and continuing until age 75, is the key to preventing colon cancer. Ask your doctor about the different types of screening tests available.
  • Diabetes screening. Diabetes is common in older adults, affecting one out of every four adults 60 years of age or older. Your doctor may test you for diabetes if you are overweight or obese, or even if you don't have any symptoms.
  • Osteoporosis screening. The risk of osteoporosis increases as you get older. Women who are 65 years of age and older should have a bone density scan to look for signs of osteoporosis.

In addition to annual wellness visits, screening tests and vaccines, regular vision and dental exams are also important for maintaining your overall health. Some Medicare Advantage plans offer routine vision and dental coverage, so check with your plan to see if these services are covered.

Remember, by seeing your doctor regularly and staying on top of any potential health issues, you can live a longer, healthier life.

Dr. Marylou Buyse is senior medical director of senior markets for Highmark Inc.

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