Preventive Health Care:

What is preventive health care?Preventive health care is any medical treatment or test that you have to try to prevent a health problem. Some of the most important preventive steps you can take are listed below.

Lead a healthy lifestyle – People don't tend to think of lifestyle changes as a form of "treatment." But the truth is, lifestyle changes are often just as effective as, or even more effective than, any medicine you can take. If you exercise often, eat right, maintain a healthy weight, limit alcohol, and avoid smoking, you are less likely to develop all sorts of health problems than people who do not have these habits.


Get all the right vaccines – Vaccines are shots that help protect you from certain diseases. They help prevent infections such as the flu and pneumonia. If you are 65 or older, you should get:


The flu vaccine once a year – Ask about getting the high-dose version, if it is available. In older people, the high-dose version works a little better than the standard dose version. But the standard dose is also helpful.


Two pneumonia vaccines, given at least 1 year apart


The shingles vaccine once


A tetanus-diphtheria (Td) vaccine booster, probably once every 10 years. (A booster is a dose of a vaccine given to "jog" the immune system after you've gotten the first group of vaccine shots. Some experts think it's OK to have Td boosters less often.) You should get a newer vaccine called "Tdap" once instead of Td, but boosters should be with Td after that.


Get screened when screening might help – Screening refers to any test that looks for early signs of a disease before the disease has started causing symptoms or problems. The most well-known screening tests are the ones that check for cancer, but other screening tests also exist.


All people age 65 and older should ask their doctor which forms of cancer screening might be appropriate for them. As you get older, some screening tests might no longer be needed. If your doctor suggests that you no longer need a screening test, such as a Pap test, mammogram, or colon cancer test, this does not mean that he or she thinks you are too old to care about. Rather, since many cancers take a long time to develop, screening as you get older might not be helpful and can even be harmful. That's because screening can lead to unnecessary treatment for findings that will never cause problems for you.


Men should get screened for a condition called "abdominal aortic aneurysm" once between the ages of 65 and 75 if they have ever smoked or have a close relative who died from or needed surgery for an abdominal aneurysm. This condition is a swelling of the main blood vessel that feeds the lower half of the body.


Women age 65 and older should get screened for osteoporosis (a bone thinning disorder).


See your doctor or nurse regularly – During each visit, you will likely have several routine tests that are important in keeping track of your health. For instance, the doctor or nurse will probably check your blood pressure, body weight, and ask about your mood. He or she might also check your cholesterol level, depending on what other health issues you have. Plus, the doctor or nurse will review your medicines, and might suggest stopping some that are less helpful and that can cause side effects as you get older.


Take medicines that can prevent problems – Some people need to take medicines to keep from having heart attacks, strokes, or other problems. For example, many people age 65 and older take aspirin to help prevent heart attacks and strokes. Many women in this age group also take calcium and vitamin D to reduce the risk of breaking a bone or falling. (Calcium and vitamin D can help strengthen bones. Taking extra vitamin D also seems to lower the risk of falling in people who do not get enough. This is common in older adults.)


Why is my age important?As people get older, the way their body responds to medical problems changes. For instance, the body cannot fight infections as well. As a result, it is more important to get certain vaccines. The way people respond to medicines can also change as they get older. That's because the liver and kidneys, which break down or get rid of medicines, do not work as well as they once did.

Certain diseases also become more common as people age. Most forms of cancer and heart disease, for example, develop more often in older people than they do in younger people.

Keep in mind, though, that getting older does not have to mean that you get sicker or frail. Always check with your doctor about any changes in your body or your health. That way you can find out if the changes might be a problem, and if there are any treatments that might help.

What else can I do to stay as healthy as possible?You should:

Take care to avoid falling – Here are some things that might help:


Make sure that all walkways in your home are well-lit, and clear of clutter, electrical cords, and loose rugs. Tuck electric cords out of the way and secure them to the wall or floor. Check that your loose rugs have nonskid backing, so they won't slip (figure 1).


Wear sturdy, comfortable shoes.


Try to stay active, because people who do some form of exercise are less likely to fall than people who don't.


Review the medicines you take with your doctor. Some medicines, such as sleeping pills, can increase your risk of falling and can be unsafe to use as you get older.


Ask your doctor if it is still safe to drive – This is a tough question to ask, but it's an important one. As people get older, they sometimes have vision and hearing loss, and they react more slowly to things. These changes can increase the risk of car accidents.


Talk to your doctor or nurse if you have trouble controlling your bladder or bowels – Not being able to control your bladder or bowels is called being "incontinent." If you have this problem, don't be embarrassed to bring it up at the doctor's office. Many treatments are available.


Keep an up-to-date medicine list – Always bring your medicine list with you when you see the doctor or nurse. You can find an example of this kind of list at the following website:


Get help with bills or meals if you need it – If you cannot afford to pay all your bills or have trouble making meals for yourself, find out about services in your area that can help. This website is a good place to start:



Stay socially connected – Social connection is important to good health. Let your doctor or nurse know if you spend almost all your time alone. He or she can help you find ways to meet new people and become involved in new activities.


Reference: UpToDate