Why older adults should think outside of the box on this important topic
By Alison Stanton
When it comes to preventive health screenings and vaccinations, seniors may understandably focus on the more common recommendations like annual cholesterol checks, colonoscopies starting at age 50 and getting a flu shot every year.
While these are important and should be considered, Dr. Radha Ramamrutham says older adults should also be regularly screened for additional issues that are not typically considered.
Traditional health screenings may not be enough
“I prefer a more holistic approach,” says Dr. Ramamrutham, a board-certified geriatrician and medical director of Sun Health at Home, as well as a board-certified internist and hospice and palliative medicine physician. “For example, what about things like the risk of falling and checking cognition and hearing? Who is looking into whether or not the house is safe?”
She recommends that most seniors follow the common preventative health screening and vaccinations suggestions, which include an annual blood test to check for cholesterol levels and blood sugar, a bone density scan every year after the age of 65, pneumococcal vaccines starting at age 65 and yearly influenza (flu) vaccinations. But she also suggests that primary care physicians conduct these additional screenings annually with their patients 65 and older.
Some people grow bored with retirement. “They are now going out regularly to play bridge or golf and may have slowly started to consume alcohol daily,” Dr. Ramamrutham says. She encourages physicians to screen their patients for alcohol use and possible abuse.
At least once a year, older adults should confer with their primary care physician or pharmacist about the medicines that they take. “They should bring an accurate list of all of their medicines to their annual visit,” she says.
“The doctor should also ask if the medicines are affordable — for some older adults they try to cut down on their doses because the costs are too high,” Dr. Ramamrutham says. Doctors and pharmacists should also be on the lookout for what she calls a “prescription cascade,” where a senior ends up taking medications to treat the side effects of other drugs.
Social support and depression
Physicians should also talk with their older patients about topics like elder abuse, anxiety and depression, Dr. Ramamrutham says. “Are they being mistreated, abused or exploited? How is their social support network?”
Other important issues for screening
She also advises that older adults be screened annually to assess their ability to drive safely, and to check on possible issues with memory, hearing, incontinence, swallowing, dental health, sudden changes in weight, activity level, nutrition and financial stability.
When it is appropriate to stop screenings
Dr. Ramamrutham recognizes the importance of preventive measures but she also believes it’s important to weigh the risks and benefits of screenings.
“When deciding whether to do a screening, a lot depends on life expectancy,” she says. “If you have a man who is 90 years old and is still golfing and doing great, he may easily live another 5 or 10 years, so I would probably advise him to continue with the recommended health screenings.”
In addition to the tests themselves, Dr. Ramamrutham says an abnormal result that requires additional time and expense may be so anxiety-provoking in some older patients, it may be better to skip it.
“A good example is an MRI, which is not an easy test for an older person to go through. Before suggesting such an expensive test, we should determine if it is really necessary.”
Want to learn more about Sun Health at Home?
Join us for a no-obligation Discovery Seminar. Unless otherwise noted, seminars are held at the Sun Health Center for Health & Wellbeing, 14719 W. Grand Ave., Surprise, Arizona.
Tuesday, October 2 at 10 a.m.
Monday, October 8 at 3 p.m.
Wednesday, October 17 at 11 a.m., Wickenburg Community Hospital,
520 Rose Lane, Wickenburg.
*Seminar & Luncheon*
Tuesday, October 30 at 2 p.m.
Visit sunhealthathome.org/seminar or call 623-227-HOME (4663) to RSVP