New Years Resolution For Carers – Get a Health Check

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Article by 

Tracy McBeth

Unfortunately, as we get older, many of us become more vulnerable to illness. While maintaining a healthy lifestyle is one key piece of the puzzle, it’s also vital to have regular and recommended health checks. By getting health checks at key stages of our lives, you may be able to prevent a health issue through lifestyle changes or detect and treat a condition before it becomes serious.

Key health checks at 50

Visiting a regular GP who knows your medical history and who you feel comfortable with is an important part of managing your health and care needs. A good GP will help ensure you are up to date with all the recommended tests and screenings. In your 50s its important to continue with the regular checks you were getting in previous years including blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels, cervical screening tests, skin cancer checks, mental health checks and healthy weight assessments.

A health check generally involves:

  • updating your medical history and examining your health issues
  • performing tests if required
  • a follow up of any problems identified
  • advice and information on how to improve your health.

Some additional health checks at this stage of life include:

Breast Check And Mammogram

Performed by: You, and your GP can arrange for mammograms
Frequency: Regular self-checks and a mammogram every two years — or more frequently if advised by your doctor
Why: Approximately 75% of new breast cancer cases are in women aged over 50. Finding breast cancer early can mean a greater range of treatment options and may improve your chances of survival. It’s important to get to know your breasts so that you can notice changes more easily. Things to look for include changes in the size or shape of the breast or nipple, changes in the skin over the breast such as redness or dimpling, lumps, or lumpiness.

Breast Screen Australia, the national breast cancer screening program, offers free breast screening by mammogram every two years to women aged 50-74. If you have a family history of breast cancer discuss with your GP when and how frequently you need breast cancer screening.

Bone Density Scan

Performed by: Trained specialists at a radiology service
Frequency: On your GP’s advice, depending on your risk factors
Why: Your bones require calcium and other minerals to give them strength and thickness (bone mass or density). Osteoporosis is a health condition where your bones become brittle due to mineral loss. This means you are more likely to break or fracture your bones. A bone density scan checks the bone mineral density of multiple bones in the body. The most accurate and useful test is a type of x-ray known as a DXA (‘dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry’ or DEXA) scan. The test is painless and involves a very low dose of radiation.

Women over 45 can ask their doctor to assess their risk factors for osteoporosis. Your doctor may refer you for a bone density scan if required. The scan is usually only recommended for women over 65 or women with a BMI of less than 20 but some women may have a scan at a younger age if they have an increased risk of developing osteoporosis due to previous fractures, family history, using certain medications, or have certain medical conditions.

Osteoporosis also affects men, accounting for 30% of all fractures in people over 50 in Australia. Men over the age of 50 should ask their doctor to assess their risk factors for osteoporosis. Your doctor may refer you for a bone density scan if required. The scan is usually only recommended for men with a BMI of less than 20, or if they have an increased risk of developing osteoporosis due to a particular medical condition.

Bowel Cancer Screening Test

Performed by: You with some help from a pathology lab
Frequency: Once every two years, or more frequently as advised by your GP
Why: Bowel cancer is one of Australia’s most common cancers and the risk rises significantly from the age of 50. Bowel cancer screening generally involves a test for blood in the stool, which can be an early warning sign of bowel cancer. Screening is usually carried out through an immunochemical What are you going to do today to reduce the stress in your life? SUMMER 2022 | Australian Carers Guide 77 faecal occult blood test (iFOBT) which involves a simple test that you can use at home and then send to a laboratory for analysis. The test results are sent back to you and your doctor. A positive iFOBT result doesn’t necessarily mean you have bowel cancer but it does generally mean you have an increased risk, and your doctor may investigate further, often with a colonoscopy.

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program offers free bowel cancer screening kits to eligible Australians from the age of 50 to 74. If you’ve been invited to participate in the program but you’re unsure about taking part, talk to your GP about whether or not you need bowel cancer screening.
FOBT kits can also be purchased online and in pharmacies.

Hearing assessment

Performed by: Hearing health professionals, arranged by your GP
Frequency: If you have symptoms
Why: Hearing problems can affect your quality of life and your risk of hearing loss increases with age. About 1 in 6 Australians has some level of hearing loss that makes communication difficult. Your doctor can treat minor conditions that cause temporary hearing loss, such as ear infections, but they can also refer you to a hearing service for more permanent hearing problems. Hearing health professionals can carry out a range of hearing tests to determine your degree of hearing loss and investigate possible causes of your hearing problems.

As you enter your golden years, preventative health is important. Prevention is cheaper than a cure.

By Tracy McBeth, journalist and Bupa Healthlink contributor

Resources

1. Breast
www.bcna.org.au/
2. Bones
www.healthybonesaustralia.org.au/
3. Bowel
www.bowelcanceraustralia.org/
4. Hearing
www.healthdirect.gov.au/hearing-test

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