doctor with couple webNot sure what to give your parent or other older loved one this holiday season? Consider providing them with the help they need to optimize their health. Alaa Mira, MD, Chief, Geriatric Medicine, St. Luke’s University Health Network, says preventative health care can improve your loved one’s health and his or her quality of life. Vaccinations prevent life-threatening illness like the flu. Screenings identify diseases in their early, most treatable stages.


“Chances are your father doesn’t need another tie or your mother another sweater,” he says, “but they might really benefit from your help in managing preventive health care.” For instance, many older adults need a little encouragement to schedule needed health care. Some also need assistance in making appointments or getting to the doctor’s office. “Preventative care can have significant benefits,” he adds. “For example, routine blood work may identify a health condition that can be easily treated. By identifying and treating the problem, your loved one will likely feel better. In addition, we can often reverse or slow the progression of the disease,” he adds.

Dr. Mira suggests approaching the topic delicately. Offer assistance while allowing the older adult to make decisions as he or she is able. Have a list of screenings and vaccinations in hand so you can discuss them together. Finally, if unsure what preventive health care your loved one has received, see if you can join in a conversation with your loved one’s family physician.

Dr. Mira’s 10 Important Preventive Steps for Older Adults

  1. Influenza vaccination. All adults should consider getting an annual flu shot, but as you grow older your risk of having serious complications from the flu increase, particularly if you have poor health. In fact, about 85% of people who die from influenza are 65 and older.
  2. High blood pressure screening. All older adults should have regular blood pressure screening. The prevalence of high blood pressure increases with age and is a leading indicator of diabetes and heart disease.
  3. Cholesterol screening: Men age 35 and women age 45 who are at risk for coronary heart disease should be tested. Risk factors include high blood pressure, being overweight or obese and having personal or a family history of heart disease.
  4. Diabetes screening. Nearly one in four adults age 60 and older has diabetes and many more are at risk of developing it. Diabetes screening is particularly important if you have a sustained blood pressure greater than 135/80 mm Hg. Efficient detection and treatment of diabetes can prevent the progress of certain diabetes-related complications and improve and reduce the risk of heart and vascular disease, including stroke and heart attack.
  5. Colorectal cancer screening. Beginning at age 50 and continuing to age 75 or even longer if you’re in good health. Two-thirds of all new cases of colorectal cancer are in people 65 and older. As discussed in last month’s edition of Lifestyles over 50, breast cancer and prostate screening are also recommended.
  6. Osteoporosis screening. Routine screening for women at age 65 or at age 60 for women with increased risk for fractures. Screening may lead physicians to implement management strategies that may decrease fractures.
  7. Pneumococcal vaccination. All persons age 65 and older should receive this vaccine. Older adults are more likely to get and develop complications from pneumonia.
  8. Vision tests. Older adults should have a comprehensive test every year or two. Common vision disorders that become more prevalent as you age include age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, dry eye and glaucoma. Early detection and treatment helps you retain good vision.
  9. Hearing screening. Adults 55 and older should get their hearing tested at least once a year. Hearing loss is a normal part of aging. Approximately one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 has hearing loss and nearly half of those older than 75 have difficulty hearing.
  10. Depression evaluations. Although not a normal part of aging, many older adults suffer from depression. It is often due to a loss, such as a death or even retirement. If you or someone you care about shows signs of depression, such as tiredness, trouble sleeping or irritability, talk to your doctor.

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