Health checks for women over 60
Updated January 2024 | 7 min read
Contributor Dr Billy Stoupas, general practitioner
Words by Mariella Attard, updated by Beth Wallace
The age of 60 may be the new 50, but it still comes with a few more recommended regular health checks for women. Here are some routine tests to book in.
While there are certain types of health checks that should have become routine by the time we reach middle age – like cervical cancer checks, skin cancer and dental checks – there are others that become particularly important for women after the age of 60.
Dr Billy Stoupas, who works with many over-60 patients in his Melbourne general practice, explains some of the regular health checks women over 60 should have in their calendar.
Heart health check
Symptoms of heart disease can look different in women and in men. For example, while men may experience chest pain and shortness of breath during a heart attack, women can experience fatigue, dizziness, vomiting or sweating. Heart Research Australia says heart disease kills twice as many Australian women than breast cancer.
A heart health check will measure your blood pressure and cholesterol, and can 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.
All Australian adults aged 45 years and over (30 years and over for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people) are eligible to receive a Medicare rebate when they get a heart health check. Eligible HCF members in some states aged 18 and over with hospital and extras cover can access heart health checks, thanks to our partnership with the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute.
Plus, HCF members living with a heart condition or type 2 diabetes may be eligible for The COACH Program®. Delivered by qualified health professionals, this telephone support program is provided at no extra cost for eligible members* with heart conditions or diabetes.
How can I check my heart health?
There are many tests to diagnose or determine your risk of heart disease. One of those is a heart health check, which can be done by your GP, a medical centre or the Victor Chang mobile testing service.
Eligible HCF members~ can access a free heart health check thanks to our partnership with the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute. Check our website for future dates. At selected HCF Eyecare Centres and HCF Dental Centres you can get:
- a blood pressure, total cholesterol and blood sugar reading
- healthy heart advice from a Heart Health Check Specialist
- a heart health snapshot in under 10 minutes.
What is a heart health check?
A heart health check is a health assessment that can include a review of your medical history, weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and lifestyle factors like smoking and alcohol intake. You can also ask your GP to use a stethoscope to listen to your heart to detect conditions like aortic stenosis – a serious condition that involves narrowing of one of the valves in your heart. Getting a heart health check can help you assess your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Hearing and eye checks
At age 60, your eyesight and hearing may not be what they 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 also indicate things like diabetes and high blood pressure. "Hearing and vision loss are also a big contributor to falls," says Dr Stoupas.
HCF's More for Hearing network partner Connect Hearing 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^.
How often: Older people should have their hearing checked each year by their GP, or by booking a hearing test. After the age of 65, your eye test is covered by Medicare once a year.
Osteoporosis risk assessment
While anyone can develop osteoporosis, it’s more likely to be a problem for older women. In self-reported data compiled by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 29% of women aged 75 and over had osteoporosis compared with 10% of men. That’s because changing hormone levels can cause bones to lose calcium quickly during menopause and women generally 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 make lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of osteoporosis, says Dr Stoupas. This includes doing more weight-bearing exercise, adding more calcium into your diet, and ensuring you get enough vitamin D to help improve your bone strength.
If you’re overweight and living with osteoarthritis of the hip or knee joints, you may be able to access the Osteoarthritis Healthy Weight for Life program. We’ve partnered with Prima Health Solutions to give eligible members+ free access to the program, designed to help people reduce the pain in their joints, improve their mobility or prepare for hip or knee surgery.
The program aims to support HCF members who want to reduce the pain in their joints, improve their mobility or prepare for hip or knee surgery. It’s open to members who've held hospital cover that covers joint replacement surgery for two months, with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 28 and higher, who have knee or hip osteoarthritis and are considering joint replacement surgery.
How to test for osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is diagnosed with a bone density scan (also known as DEXA scan). It’s a simple scan that measures bone density at the hip and spine. It’s a quick and painless process – you lie flat (fully clothed) on a padded bench for around 15 minutes.
How often: Talk to your GP if you're thinking about a bone density scan as you may need a referral. Your GP will also advise on how often you’ll need to repeat bone density testing depending on your risk factors.
Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women in Australia, with more than 20,000 Australians diagnosed each year. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, approximately 80% of new cases of breast cancers are in women aged over 50.
For women over 50, a screening mammogram is the best method to detect breast cancer early, when treatment is most likely to be successful. A study found that for every 1,000 women who have a screening mammogram every two years between the ages of 50 and 74, around eight deaths will be prevented.
How often: Women aged 50 to 74 years are recommended to have a free screening mammogram every two years.
Bowel cancer screening
Australians aged 50 to 74 get a free bowel screening kit in the mail every two years.
According to Bowel Cancer Australia, bowel cancer is the third deadliest cancer in women, and approximately one in 15 Australian women will develop bowel cancer in their lifetime.
If found early, almost 99% of bowel cancer cases can be treated successfully. 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 627 701 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. A two-month waiting period applies before you can claim.
How often: Every two years.
Stay up to date with your vaccinations
As we age, the body’s immune response gradually declines. NSW Health recommends adults over the age of 70 get a shingles and pneumococcal disease vaccination. Influenza can also be especially serious for people aged over 65, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults and people with certain medical conditions, so it’s worth considering an annual flu jab as well.
For people aged 65 and older, the flu and shingles vaccines are free, while pneumococcal vaccinations are free for adults 70 years and over. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults and people with specific medical conditions may be eligible to get the vaccines earlier, so check the Department of Health and Aged Care website for detailed information.
Older people tend to have weaker immune systems, which makes them more likely to contract COVID-19. The Australian Government recommends that older people get vaccinated and keep up with booster shots. COVID-19 vaccinations are free for everyone in Australia.
Booster shots of vaccinations you’ve had in younger years – like diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough may also ‘boost’ your immune system and should also be considered.
How often: 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 developing 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 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 be the first step towards making changes that will avoid lifelong complications.
Eligible HCF members# can also access the Healthy Weight for Life Essentials program, which aims to support participants to develop healthier habits, lose weight and prevent the onset of various chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes. This personalised program is led by trained health practitioners to help you reach your health goals.
How often: According to health advice service Healthdirect, if you’re in your 60s you should be tested every three years to see if you have type 2 diabetes, or every 12 months if you're at increased risk.
Mental health check-in
It’s not just physical health that needs to be maintained as we age; getting older can also bring mental health challenges that should be addressed to optimise wellbeing. Conditions like depression and anxiety can be triggered by factors including illness, grief and loss, changed living arrangements and social isolation. So if you feel your mental health is suffering, it’s important to seek support before the situation escalates.
If you’re unsure how to get a health check for your mental wellbeing, the Australian Government’s free and confidential service Head to Health is a good place to start. Otherwise, consider scheduling an appointment with your GP, or eligible HCF members** can book a free HealthyMinds Check-in, which gives you faster, easier access to mental health support.
While dementia isn’t a typical part of ageing, dementia risk does increase with age. According to Dementia Australia, the condition affects almost one in 10 people over 65 and three in 10 people over 85.
If you show any symptoms of dementia – like memory loss, disorientation or difficulty performing familiar tasks – talk to your doctor as soon as possible, because early diagnosis means early access to support, information and medication, if needed.
If you're struggling with depression or anxiety, and need to speak to someone now, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Heart health for women
Regular heart health checks and some heart-friendly lifestyle changes can help women boost their cardiac health and reduce their chances of having a heart attack.
How to prevent osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is common in women and men over 50, but there are some easy ways to reduce your risk factors. Here are simple tips to keep your bones strong for life.
Diabetes: signs and symptoms
Are you thirsty, tired and spending a lot of time in the bathroom? These could be diabetes symptoms – but there are ways to treat and live with the condition.
7 steps to mental wellbeing
While good mental health is essential for all women, so is good mental wellbeing, and it’s important to understand the difference.
* To be eligible, members must have a heart-related condition or diabetes and must have had hospital cover that includes heart conditions and vascular system for at least 12 months. Excludes Ambulance Only, Accident Only Basic cover and Overseas Visitors Health Cover. Clinical eligibility applies.
~ Must have hospital and extras cover. Excludes My Future 750 Basic Plus Package, HCF Starter Extras and Future Care Basic Plus Package for Optical services and Overseas Visitors Cover.
^ 100% back through More for You providers in our No-Gap network is available on selected covers. Waiting periods and annual limits apply. Providers are subject to change. We recommend that you confirm the provider prior to your appointment.
+ Must have held hospital cover that covers joint replacement surgery for 2 months, have knee or hip osteoarthritis and a Body Mass Index of 28 and above. Clinical eligibility applies. See hcf.com.au/hwfl
# Must have hospital cover, have no chronic conditions but have multiple lifestyle risk factors (e.g. smoking, physical inactivity, poor nutrition) and a Body Mass Index of 28 and above. Clinical eligibility applies. See hcf.com.au/hwfl
** 1 HealthyMinds Check-in available per member per calendar year. Service is available free to all members with hospital cover. Excludes extras only cover, Ambulance Only, Accident Only Basic and Overseas Visitors Health Cover.
This communication contains information which is copyright to The Hospitals Contribution Fund of Australia Limited (HCF). It should not be copied, disclosed or distributed without the authority of HCF. Except as required by law, HCF does not represent, warrant and/or guarantee that this communication is free from errors, virus, interception or interference. All reasonable efforts have been taken to ensure the accuracy of material contained on this website. It’s not intended that this website be comprehensive or render advice. HCF members should rely on authoritative advice they seek from qualified practitioners in the health and medical fields as the information provided on this website is general information only and may not be suitable to individual circumstances or health needs. Please check with your health professional before making any dietary, medical or other health decisions as a result of reading this website.