I have a new great-nephew (well kind of new since he’ll turn 1 in January) and new babies come with a list of things that they need to see the doctor for such as vaccinations, weight and measurement checks, complete physicals—the works. But did you know that those same sort of checks occur at age 50, 60 and 70? Here’s what you should know at each stage:
Sleep. Despite beliefs to the contrary, older people don’t need less sleep. Inconsistent and inadequate sleep increases the risk for cognitive decline, puts weight on a body already more prone to weight gain than your younger self, raises your chance of getting depression and heart disease, makes it harder to cope with arthritis and back pain and increases your chance of getting diabetes.
Preventative Screenings and Tests. Beginning at age 50, your doctor will want you to have a colonoscopy, Pap smear and mammogram for women, prostate screening and testicular exams for men, bone density check, head to toe skin exam, blood test for hepatitis C, sexually transmitted diseases and vitamin B12 deficiency. In addition, you’ll want to have screenings for blood pressure and cholesterol, dental and eye exams and of course immunizations for flu, pneumonia, tetanus-diphtheria and pertussis (shingles vaccination at age 60). If it’s been awhile, you should also get a tetanus shot (you need a new one every 10 years not just when you step on a nail). If you smoked for 30 years and are still smoking or have quit in the last 15 years you should have a lung cancer screening.
Increase your fitness level. You need at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a week and some resistance training as well. As we age, the excuses for not getting the exercise we need begin to add up. Stiffer joints, slower recovery time and the loss of mean body mass (women over 50 can lose up to 10 pounds of lean mass per decade) create more challenges to the daily workout.
Take care of your teeth. Gum disease and other inflammations of the mouth can lead to chronic health complications including cardiovascular disease, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, pancreatic cancer and even Alzheimer’s disease.
Exercise your brain. Our brains require proper exercise and that means the physical exercise your body requires but also the exercise ofsocializing and learning new things to help ward off dementia and other conditions.
Treat depression. Men often ignore or refuse treatment and older men are especially prone to depression often leading to thoughts of suicide. Men, 65 and older are almost eight times as likely as their female counterparts to commit suicide. Depression is treatable for both men and women so understanding the signs and seeking medical help is an important first step in living a quality life as you age.
Your skin looks older. That might mean that it’s drier, which can be good news for those of us with adult acne issues but it’s also likely to be more fragile and show more age spots. Everyone starts to show more dramatic changes in the wrinkles and fine lines but those people who smoked or sunned significantly are even more likely to show skin changes. You’re also more likely to exhibit skin tags and dilated superficial blood vessels on the cheeks, nose, chin and legs.
Joints and bones. Inactivity and aging can lead to achy bones. If you have remained active, joints and bones are likely still in pretty good shape. Most knee replacements occur after age 65.
Older stomachs process digested material slower often leading to constipation, colon polyps and heartburn.
Hearing, sight and sinus issues. Older eyes need 3 times as much light as a 20-something. Hearing high tones often diminishes and almost 50 percent of 60-somethings have some degree of hearing loss. Any substantial decrease in any of your senses should be reported to your doctor.
Sexual satisfaction. While erectile dysfunction and vaginal dryness make the advertising rounds, little is made of the fact that older people tend to enjoy sex better with age.
A less aggressive immune system means you get sick more often but allergies likely disappear. On the negative side, the majority of cancer cases occur in patients older than 65 so get the recommended screenings indicated at the beginning of this story.
Nighttime bathroom trips. Eighty percent of people in their 60s need to get up at least once during the night. Stress incontinence—urine loss during sneezing or coughing affects 1 in 3 women in their 60s.
Mild forgetfulness. Senior moments start in your 60s. Most people don’t develop Alzheimer’s in this decade so relax and concentrate on keeping your mind and body sharp.
Weight loss. The past two decades started adding on the pounds but people in their 70s begin to see a tendency to lose weight. Unfortunately, it’s not something to celebrate necessarily. A lot of that weight loss is due to muscle loss and poor nutrition. Focus on eating right and if you haven’t been getting the exercise message, now’s the time to fall in line.
Mental health. All those things you have been lectured about to protect your mental health come to roost in your 70s. Avoid binge drinking, depression, poor nutrition and sitting around on your duff all day.
The ability to regulate your emotions improves with age, the result is that by age 70 or so, most people are consistently happy and satisfied with their lives.
Falls prevention. Take steps to avoid falls. Frankly most of those steps will help you lead a healthier life anyway so consider it a twofer.
Screenings taper off. Prostate and colorectal cancer screenings should drop off around age 70. Women should continue getting mammograms regardless of their age as long as they don’t have serious chronic health issues, dementia or short life expectancies but should stop getting Pap tests after age 65.