Over 50? Here are some health checks you should consider

28 January 2021

If you remember rushing home from school to catch The Brady Bunch and using a rotary dialer to call your best friend, you’re probably 50+. And, while you’re still young at heart, you might need to give your body a little TLC to keep it at its healthiest.

Prevention is better than a cure and there are a number of health checks Aussies over the age of 50 should be doing. Health checks are simple tests or check-ups designed to catch conditions at an early stage, particularly when there may be no symptoms.

Bowel cancer check

Bowel cancer is one of the most curable cancers if it’s caught early. The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program invites all Aussies aged 50-74 to do a test every two years, so if you haven’t already been tested, it’s time to get (your bowel) moving.

From the age of 50, all Australians are sent an invite for a bowel cancer test kit. The FIT test is very simple and involves putting a tiny sample of toilet water onto a test card and posting it to the lab. The results are sent to you and your GP.

The test should be done every two years, in the comfort of your own home… and it’s free!

Blood pressure check

Your GP will want to check your blood pressure regularly because high blood pressure can lead to heart disease, stroke and problems with your kidneys. You usually won’t notice any symptoms, so make sure you request a check at your next doctor’s appointment. It’s a simple check that only takes a couple of minutes and should be checked at least every two years.

Cholesterol check

A person with high cholesterol will usually experience no symptoms, and unfortunately, being a healthy weight is no guarantee that your cholesterol levels are ideal. High cholesterol and blood lipids (also known as blood fats) can lead to heart and blood vessel disease but, once diagnosed, it can be treated effectively. Your cholesterol should be checked at least every five years, starting at age 45 by your GP. Depending on your risk, you may need testing more often.

Heart health check

Cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke, impacts one in six Australians. The good news is that heart disease can be preventable.

Your risk of this disease increases as you age and is also dependent on your family history. But, in addition to age and genetics, there are other modifyable risk factors you can talk about with your GP to reduce your lifetime risk.

Getting a heart health check is a great way for your doctor to understand your risk factors including family history, blood pressure and cholesterol and should be done every two years, beginning at age 45.

Weight check

Keeping within a healthy weight range is essential to looking and feeling your best. Being overweight or obese puts you at risk of many chronic diseases, so it’s important to get help early if you’re gaining unhealthy weight.

Your GP can conduct this quick test by measuring your height and weight. These numbers will be used to calculate your BMI and help determine your health. Your weight should be checked every 1 – 2 years, depending on your risk.

Diabetes risk test

More than 1.2 million Australians over the age of 18 now live with type 2 diabetes – a chronic disease where our body becomes resistant to insulin, or gradually stops producing enough. All people aged 40 and over should be tested every three years by their GP, to understand whether they are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Kidney health check

Kidney disease is known as a silent disease, as there are often no symptoms until it is advanced. That’s why a kidney health check is recommended for people thought to be at increased risk. Ask your doctor if this applies to you.

A kidney health check has three components: a blood pressure check, a urine test and a blood test, which should be checked every 1 – 2 years by your GP.

Dental check up

Regular dental check-ups, which are recommended throughout life, have wide-ranging benefits. That’s because conditions that affect your teeth and mouth (such as gum disease and tooth decay) can affect your overall health as well as your smile. Don’t forget to see your dentist at least once a year, but ideally every six months.

Eye test

Glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration (one of the leading causes of blindness) become more likely after the age of 50. Some progressive eye diseases can result in blindness, but you won’t know until it’s too late as you can’t always tell if there’s something wrong with your eyes. That’s why having regular eye checks can help detect these diseases early.

Your optometrist will let you know how frequently you should be tested, as it depends on your overall risk. Some people are at increased risk of glaucoma, a disease which results in progressive loss of sight.

Mental health check

In Australia, it’s estimated 45 per cent of people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime, with three million Aussies currently living with depression or anxiety. So if you’re suffering with your mental health, rest assured; you’re not alone.

If you’re trying to improve your own mental health, or support somebody else with mental health issues, Head to Health provides links to trusted Australian resources and treatment options.

You should seek help if you have concerns about your mental health, or if you’ve noticed changes in the way you’re thinking or feeling.

Your GP will conduct the initial assessment and can provide you with a referral to see a psychologist for up to six Medicare rebatable sessions. Once those six sessions are up, you can head back to your GP to ask for a referral for more rebatable sessions, with a maximum of 10 each calendar year.

Skin check

In Australia, we have one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, with two out of three Aussies diagnosed by age 70. The sun safety messages weren’t as loud in our youth, and it’s likely we weren’t as careful back then. Checking over your skin and having regular skin checks by your GP or a dermatologist will help to detect any important changes early and allow any offending moles or skin lesions to be removed.

There are no set intervals for most people. For people at high-risk (anyone who’s had melanoma or who has more than five moles with an unusual appearance), skin self-examination should be done every three months and full body examination by your doctor every 6-12 months. Finding a melanoma early can save your life.

Bone density check

If you’ve been active most of your life your bone density should be pretty good. But for women, the speed at which you lose bone density increases the first few years after menopause. Men too suffer from decreasing bone density as they age.

That’s why it’s a good idea for your GP to assess your individual risk of osteoporosis and recommend whether you need a bone density scan. Knowing your bone density can help your GP develop a plan so you can avoid osteoporosis and fractures down the track. The frequency at which you should repeat the scan depends on your initial results.

Gender specific health checks

There are also a variety of gender health checks recommended including, but not limited to;

  1. Self-check of testicles for men
  2. Cervical cancer screening test for women
  3. Self-check of breasts for women
  4. Mammogram for women

Your GP or health specialist can guide you on how often these checks should be done, based on your family history or initial results.

Is it time for a health insurance check-up?

Everyone’s health insurance needs are different. To help you understand what level of cover is best suited to you, get in touch with the Suncorp Health Insurance team to learn more about what people are commonly claiming on and what covers are available.

If you’re not with Suncorp Health Insurance, but you’d like to find out more, get a quote today or contact the team on 13 11 55.

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Article adapted from The Check Up.

Please note: This is not an all-inclusive list; there may be other health checks that are recommended based on your age and individual circumstances. The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner. Please make an appointment with your GP to receive advice on the health checks you will need based on your personal circumstances.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are at increased risk of many diseases, and so are often recommended to start health checks at an earlier age. You may also be recommended to have the tests or checks more often. Please see your GP for personalised advice.

Suncorp Health Insurance is issued by nib health funds limited ABN 83 000 124 381 (nib), a registered private health insurer, and is marketed by Platform CoVentures ABN 82 626 829 623 (PC), a Suncorp Group company. PC is an authorised agent of nib and receives commission from nib. nib is not a part of the Suncorp Group. Read the policy booklet before buying this insurance.