“An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” However, there is more to healthy living than this popular cliché implies. While habits such as eating a healthy diet and getting enough exercise are important factors in a healthy lifestyle, getting regular checkups can be just as vital. Because of the advances of modern medicine, doctors can now diagnose and treat many illnesses before they become severe. With certain conditions, such as heart disease or cancer, early detection is the key to the best chances at recovery.
Preventive care, also known as preventative care, is especially important for senior citizens, people over the age of 65. Senior citizens are more at risk for developing certain chronic or life-threatening conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Regular checkups allow your doctor to uncover any developing health issues, getting you treatment faster and avoiding unnecessary complications.
Overview of Preventive Care
Through regular checkups, your doctor can monitor your health. Checkups also alert your doctor to developing conditions or any changes in your health. Detecting health issues early also helps you get the treatment you need as soon as possible and lessens the likelihood for complications. Most doctors recommend that patients over the age of 65 get a checkup once a year; however, how often you see a doctor depends on the individual. Factors that may impact how often you need to see a doctor include: pre-existing conditions, weight, lifestyle choices such as drinking or smoking, and family history.
Benefits of Preventive Care
- Reduce your likelihood of getting sick
- Detect chronic illnesses or life-threatening conditions early
- Improve your chances of getting the right treatment
- Monitor pre-existing conditions
- Reduce the likelihood of developing complications
- Lower health costs overall by avoiding the need for special treatments
- Develop a relationship with your healthcare provider
Preventive Care Measures
There are many different types of preventive examinations and tests that your doctor can administer. Which tests or exams you need depend on your family history, lifestyle choices, and overall health. Talk with your doctor to see which means of preventive care they recommend for you. Some of these preventive screenings and tests include:
- Family history counseling
- Physical examination
- Immunization and booster shots
- Blood pressure check
- Cholesterol check
- Body mass index check
- Cancer screenings
- Diabetes test
- Mammograms for women
- Pap smears for women
- Prostate exams for men
- Vision test
- Hearing test
- Dental exam
- Mental health evaluation
For people over 65, the most important preventive care measures are the blood pressure check; the dental, vision, and hearing exams; the diabetes screening; the colonoscopy; the mammogram and pap smears for women; and the prostate exam for men. As people age, they are more likely to develop problems with their teeth, hearing, or vision, which is why these screenings are so important. Additionally, people are more likely to develop heart disease, diabetes, and cancer as they age, which is why preventive care for these conditions is especially important for senior citizens.
Where to Get Preventive Care
The best place to go for preventive care is your primary healthcare provider. If you do not have a primary healthcare provider, check with your health insurance to find a provider in your area. If you do not have access to health insurance, there are several options for getting preventive care.
Health Resources and Services Administration can help you find a healthcare provider in your area where you can get preventive care for free or at a low cost based on your income.
To get a low-cost pap smear or mammogram, check to see if you qualify for the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. Additionally, your local Planned Parenthood offers cancer screenings for both men and women at a low cost to patients without insurance.
When to Schedule Your Appointment
There is no bad time to schedule a preventive care appointment, but getting a checkup at certain times of the year may make it easier for you to remember when you’re due for the next one. For example, having an annual physical right before the end of the year or right at the beginning of the new year can help you remember to schedule one every year.
How to Prepare for Your Appointment
The best way to get the most out of your preventive care is to be proactive. Make sure you review and update your medical records to include any new diagnoses or medications, new or worsening symptoms, or developments in your family’s medical history. Come prepared with questions for your doctor about your conditions, symptoms, or any tests you may be undergoing.
Bring a copy of your vaccination records if your doctor does not have them, including when you last received a flu shot, tetanus vaccine, and pertussis vaccine. You should also bring the dates and results of your last cancer screenings, as well as the names and dosages of any medications or supplements you are taking. Make sure to know exactly which vitamins or herbal remedies you use, as they may interfere with medications your doctor may prescribe you.
Most of all, be honest with your doctor. Doctors can only help you if they know what is going on with your body. Your doctor is not going to judge you; your doctor is there to provide you with the care you need.
What to Expect in a Physical Exam
What to expect during a preventive care visit depends on your individual situation and what tests or screenings you have scheduled for that appointment. In general, however, you can expect your doctor to ask certain questions or do certain checks.
Your doctor should take your history. This history generally includes your own personal history in addition to your family history. Knowing health issues within your immediate family is especially important. They will likely ask you about major diagnoses or medical procedures and your lifestyle habits, such as drinking, smoking, sexual activity, and exercise. During this part of the appointment is the best time to bring up any questions or concerns with your doctor so that he or she knows what to look for during your appointment. Based on your concerns and your doctor’s findings during your appointment, your provider may order more tests or screenings to reach a diagnosis.
Here’s what your doctor will check during a physical exam:
- Weight: Normal weight depends on your height and build.
- Blood Pressure: This should be around 120/80.
- Heart Rate: This should be between 60 and 100 beats per minute.
- Respiration Rate: This should be somewhere between 12 and 16 breaths per minutes. A higher respiration could indicate a problem with your heart or lungs.
- Temperature: This is normally around 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. A higher temperature could be a sign of infection.
- Heart and Lungs: By listening to your heart, your doctor can detect irregular heartbeats, heart murmurs, or other signs of heart disease. This can also reveal wheezes or crackles, indicating problems with your respiratory system.
Your doctor may also examine your abdomen with a stethoscope or by palpating in order to check for organ function and size. Your doctor should also look in your ears, nose, and throat for any abnormalities.
For males, your doctor may examine your testicles, penis, and prostate for any abnormalities. For women, a doctor may conduct a breast exam to check for lumps. Your doctor may also do a pelvic exam, which allows them to check your vulva, vagina, cervix, uterus, and ovaries for abnormalities.
Doctors may also perform blood work or a urinalysis to check for certain diseases or conditions.
If you feel that your doctor is not giving you the attention you deserve, is discounting your questions or concerns, or treats you rudely during your appointment, you are well within your right to find another provider.
Preventive healthcare is essential to detect disease early and treat it as soon as possible with minimal risk of complications. How often you see a doctor and what tests the doctor performs depend on your overall health, lifestyle, and family history. In addition to preventive care, proactive and healthy lifestyle choices, such as maintaining a proper diet and exercise, help maintain your overall health. Staying healthy is about more than just eating apples, as the popular saying goes. For the best chances at a long and healthy life, combine healthy habits with regular trips to the doctor.
Find Preventive Care Coverage
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