Screening Tests Every Baby Boomer Needs
By Joanne Pallotta
The first of the so-called “baby boomer” generation is starting to reach its mid-to-late 60s. As a person gets older, health care needs change. It is as important as ever to stay healthy to ensure a high quality of life.
“In terms of serious health issues, I would have to say that this particular generation is probably a very healthy generation,” says Suzanne Salamon, MD, Associate Chief of the Division of Gerontology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “They [baby boomers] grew up knowing that exercise and healthy eating are important.”
Dr. Salamon points out that medical screenings are key as people get older, and there are important tests and vaccinations that every baby boomer needs.
The risk of colon cancer increases with age. To rule this disease out, a colonoscopy is recommended every 10 years for men and women between the ages of 50 and 80. The procedure allows a physician to exam the large intestine. But, Dr. Salamon notes that the difficulty of the procedure also increases with age. The preparation for the test, as well as the sedation, may be difficult for an older person. However, any patient presenting symptoms of colon cancer should have a colonoscopy to look for the cause, no matter what age.
Dr. Salamon says breast cancer risk also increases with age. She advises every woman to get a mammogram every two years. That’s a change from the previous guidelines of having a mammogram every year; however, if a woman has a personal or family history of breast cancer, she should continue to get mammograms more frequently.
This test detects cervical cancer in women. There is now differing research on WHEN to end the tests. Previous guidelines stopped this test at age 65 for women who had normal tests, with the thought being that the risk of cervical cancer decreases as a woman ages. But, Dr. Salamon says there are some in the medical and research profession who believe the test should be given until age 70.
“Blood pressure goes up with age,” says Dr. Salamon. “People should have their blood pressure checked every year.”
She points out that hypertension is associated with heart attacks and stroke, but can be controlled with medication or diet and exercise. A visit to the PCP’s office can quickly determine if a person’s blood pressure is unsafe.
A simple blood test will determine a person’s cholesterol level and Dr. Salamon recommends that everyone have this done.
“If the test is normal, then you usually don’t need to repeat it every year,” she says, because a person’s cholesterol level usually doesn’t change much. However, if someone has heart disease or has had a heart attack or stroke, it is important to treat the high cholesterol. This can be done with medication or through diet and exercise.
At 65, women should get a bone density test to rule out osteoporosis. A bone density test is important because as people age, their bones get thinner, putting them at a greater risk for fracture.
Calcium and vitamin D are important to bone health. There are also medications that can reduce the risk of a break by 50 percent or more. If the test is normal, it probably doesn’t need to be done every year.
While this recommendation is mainly for women, researchers are studying whether this test should also be suggested for men.
Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm
The test for abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is for men between the ages of 65 and 70 who smoke or have smoked in the past.
“People who smoke are at higher incidence for getting an aneurysm,” says Dr. Salamon.
Using ultrasound, this test takes a look at the area of the aorta in the lower abdomen to detect the possibility of an enlarged area.
A blood test can determine the presence of hepatitis C.
Dr. Salamon calls the test very important because without treatment, hepatitis C could lead to big liver problems down the road.
“There are cures for this where there weren’t before,” she says.
A yearly eye exam is also recommended for everyone to rule out glaucoma.
“It is reversible, preventable, and if not treated, can lead to blindness,” stresses Dr. Salamon.
- Flu: Because the virus changes every year, the flu vaccine is recommended for everyone once a year. “As you get older, getting the flu is more dangerous,” says Dr. Salamon. “Of people who die of the flu, most of them are older.
- TDAP: This vaccine prevents tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough). This should be given every 10 years.
- Pneumonia: This is only needed once in a lifetime. Now, there are two pneumonia vaccines recommended for people over 65 instead of just one. They need to be given at least one year apart. “The older you get, the less strong your immune system is,” points out Dr. Salamon. “It is harder to fight off any kind of infectious disease.”
- Shingles: This is a very painful virus and can strike anyone who had chicken pox in the past. This vaccine is recommended at age 60 to anyone who has had chicken pox.
Dr. Salamon emphasizes that diet and exercise are important factors in healthy aging, especially for baby boomers.
“I think this generation has the potential to live very long lives,” she says. “The challenge is going to be how to live that longevity in a healthy, independent way.”
The team of health professionals in BIDMC’s Senior Health Clinic are specially trained to diagnose, treat and prevent age-related health conditions in adults 65 and older. Learn more about their programs:
- Senior Health Primary Care
- Senior Health Specialty Care
- Rehab and Long-Term Care