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Senior Citizen's Guide to Connecticut

Senior Health Screenings and Vaccinations

If you want to keep a car running at its optimal levels, then you have to bring it in for an occasional tune-up. That’s true for our bodies, too. Just like a car, regular maintenance keeps us running at our best.

Getting regular care is particularly important for seniors, who represent the “classic cars” of our population. But what is “preventive maintenance” for the body? It’s a variety of things, including regular screenings and vaccinations. The good news is – unlike a costly repair bill – body maintenance is relatively inexpensive or even free for many seniors, with most services covered as long as the provider accepts Medicare.

With cars and people, early detection can head off potential problems before they get worse.

Following are some of the routine services that Medicare recommends seniors get to stay in tiptop shape:

Annual Flu Vaccine:

According to the Flu.gov website, more than half of flu-related hospitalizations occur in people age 65 and older.[i] As a result, it is recommended that seniors get the annual flu vaccine. Medicare generally covers this vaccine once a flu season in the fall or winter.

Pneumonia Vaccine:

Even people who get the annual flu shot, often forget to get a pneumonia vaccine. According to the Flu.gov, seniors should really get both.[ii] Most people need to get the pneumonia vaccine only once in their lifetime and it is covered by Medicare.

Cardiovascular Cholesterol Screening:

Cardiovascular cholesterol screening helps detect conditions that may lead to a heart attack or stroke, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) website[iii]. Medicare covers this service every five years to test cholesterol, lipid and triglyceride levels.

Breast Cancer Screening (Mammograms):

Aside from non-melanoma skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States, according to the CDC website.[iv] It is also one of the leading causes of cancer deaths among women of all races.

Medicare covers screening mammograms once every 12 months for all senior women members.

Osteoporosis Screening (bone mass measurement):

Osteoporosis is a condition that causes bones to become more porous (less solid and less dense), gradually making them weaker and more brittle. It is most common in postmenopausal women, but can also affect men. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation website, about one in two women and up to one in four men over age 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in their remaining lifetime.[v] Osteoporosis can be diagnosed through bone mass measurement, which Medicare covers once every 24 months (more often if medically necessary) for people who have certain medical conditions or meet certain criteria.

Colorectal Screening:

Of cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website[vi]. Colorectal screening tests help find pre-cancerous polyps (growths in the colon) and remove them before they turn into cancer. Recommendations vary by age and risk factors. For instance, it is recommended that seniors get a fecal occult blood test every 12 months, but a colonoscopy only every 24 months to 48 months, depending on risks. Other colorectal screenings that may be recommended every 48 months include a flexible sigmoidoscopy and a barium enema. All these screenings, except the barium enema, are covered in full by Medicare.

Glaucoma Testing:

Glaucoma is a disease that impairs vision. According to a 2009 study by the National Eye Institute, glaucoma affects approximately 4 million people in the United States and nearly half of those with glaucoma are not aware that they have the disease.[vii] Medicare covers glaucoma testing once every 12 months for people at high risk for developing the disease. Those at highest risk include people with diabetes or a family history of glaucoma, African-Americans age 50 or older and Hispanics age 65 or older.

Some other screenings your physician might request, depending on your sex, age and medical history, include an abdominal aortic aneurysm screening, diabetes screening, pap tests and pelvic exams, and prostate cancer screening. Additionally, Medicare covers the cost of smoking cessation services for smokers.

In addition, Medicare now covers the cost of a yearly wellness exam for its members. So there’s no excuse for not babying your body, just like you baby your car.

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