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Health checks for the over 60s: What’s recommended?

The age of 60 may be the new 40, but it still comes with a few more recommended regular health checks. Here are six checks to put in your diary.

While there are certain types of health check that should have become routine by the time we reach middle age, like mammograms, cervical cancer checks, skin cancer and dental checks, there are others that become especially pertinent after the age of 60. Dr Billy Stoupas, who works with many over-60 patients in his Melbourne general practice, explains some of the key regular health checks for over 60s that should be in your calendar after that big birthday.

Heart health check

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death globally for men and women, but according to the Heart Foundation, only 55% of Australian men and 39% of women over 45 had a heart health check in the past two years.

A heart health check will measure your blood pressure and cholesterol and help your GP determine your likelihood of having a stroke or a heart attack, so you can start changing your lifestyle and reducing your risks.

Australians aged 45 and over can claim a check on Medicare, and all HCF members with extras cover aged 18 and over can access free Heart Health Checks at selected HCF branches (dependent on COVID-19 restrictions) thanks to our partnership with the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute.

Osteoporosis risk assessment

While anyone can develop osteoporosis, it’s more likely to be a problem for older women. That’s because changing hormone levels cause bones to lose calcium quickly during menopause and women have smaller, lighter bones than men.

“If you have osteoporosis and you have a fall, you increase your risk of breaking something, and that can lead to a loss of independence,” says Dr Stoupas. “So, we [GPs] check every year to assess that risk.”

You can always make lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of osteoporosis, Dr Stoupas says. This includes doing more weight-bearing exercise and adding more calcium and vitamin D into your diet to increase your bone strength.

Hearing and eye checks

At age 60, your eyesight and hearing may not be what it used to be but doing something about it can make life more enjoyable and have flow-on benefits. Eye tests, for example, can pick up diseases like glaucoma, cataracts and melanoma, and they can tip you off about things like diabetes and high blood pressure. “Hearing and vision loss are also a big contributor to falls,” says Dr Stoupas.

HCF More for Hearing network partner Blamey Saunders offers an online Speech Perception Test and your HCF extras cover may make you eligible for free digital retinal imaging with your eye test through participating More for Eyes providers in our network.

Bowel cancer screening

Like other Australians aged 50–74, Sydneysider Alan Kiely gets a free kit for bowel screening in the mail every few years.

“I received a positive result and the follow-up tests found a pre-cancerous change that was removed quickly and easily,” he says. “My wife didn’t do her test when it was sent. By the time she showed symptoms, her bowel cancer was very advanced.”

If found early, nine out of 10 cases of bowel cancer can be treated successfully, says Cancer Institute NSW. Even though Australia has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world, just 40% of people take part in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program.

Call 1800 118 868 to order a bowel cancer testing kit if you haven’t received one or if your test has passed its use-by date. If your age falls outside the range of the national program, you may be able to make an HCF claim for a test.

Stay up to date with your vaccinations

As we age, the body’s immune response gradually deteriorates, meaning it pays to stay on top of your vaccinations. The most important vaccinations as you age should be an annual flu (influenza) shot, a shingles vaccination if you’ve not yet had one, and a jab against pneumococcal disease. For people aged 65 and older, both the flu and pneumococcal vaccines are free. The shingles vaccination is free after the age of 70.

Booster shots of vaccinations you’ve had in younger years – such as diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough – will ‘boost’ your immune system and should also be considered. Talk to your GP about what shots you’ve had in the past and what you might need now.

Type 2 diabetes check

Your 60s can be a decade of great change, and your risk of type 2 diabetes can change, too.

“At 60, the pancreas doesn’t work as well as it once did, and there are multiple other factors when it comes to diabetes,” says GP, Dr Stoupas. “Some people might be more active and eat the right things, others might become more high risk.”

A simple fasting blood sugar (glucose) test, organised by your GP, can put you on a path to the changes needed to avoid lifelong complications. HCF members living with type 2 diabetes may be eligible for free health coaching. Speak to us about your cover to find out if you qualify.

Words by Mariella Attard
First published July 2020 

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