Health Screenings Schedule for Seniors

Senior Care

As we get older, our health tends to demand more attention and upkeep. One way to keep on top of our health – and the health of our senior loved ones – is to complete health screenings for the various chronic and acute conditions that tend to affect older adults. 

Since many of us check in with our health at the outset of a new year, what better time than now to make sure that we’re getting ourselves and our loved ones appropriately screened? Though those in their fifties aren’t seniors, we’ve started the guidelines in this post at age 55, since early screenings are great preventative measures that help keep us healthy into our senior years. We’ve also included information about the recommended ages at which particular screenings are no longer thought to be useful. 

Remember: health screening guidelines are just that – guidelines. Every person’s individual health, family history, and their risk factors will alter the screening schedule that is ideal for them. Some of us may not need all the screenings listed here, some of us may need earlier screenings, and some of us may need further tests. Your health screening schedule, or your senior loved one’s, should be determined in consultation with a healthcare team. 

  • Blood pressure screening

    Blood pressure checks are quite common at family physicians’ practices, so many of us have probably had our blood pressure checked occasionally in the past. After the age of 50, it’s important to have our blood pressure screened at least once per year. Those with chronic conditions like “diabetes, heart disease, or kidney problems” may need screenings more often and should follow their doctor’s guidance. If you’d like to learn more about the blood pressure conditions that can affect seniors, we have a whole blog post about blood pressure

  • Cholesterol screening

Many healthcare professionals recommend cholesterol testing beginning at age 40 . If you or your loved one(s) have reached your fifties without having your cholesterol levels tested, it’s time to start. Cholesterol screening should be completed every 5 years , or more frequently for those with chronic conditions that may affect cholesterol levels.

  • Colorectal screening

After age 50, a colonoscopy is recommended every 10 years . Depending on your health history, or your senior loved one’s health history, further tests (such as occult blood tests, barium enemas, a fecal immunochemical test,  flexible sigmoidoscopies, or even CTs ) may also be recommended. Pre-existing gastrointestinal conditions and/or family history can also influence recommended screenings and their schedule. 

  • Hearing test

Hearing loss is commonly experienced by older adults. It is recommended that adults over 50 years of age be screened for hearing loss. If you or your loved one are over 50, you might want to ask your doctor about an audioscopy or audiometric testing

  • Lung cancer screening

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) , lung cancer screening should begin at age 55 for people who have a “history of heavy smoking” and have smoked in the previous 15 years. Lung cancer is screened for using low-dose computed tomography . If you’re unsure if you or your loved one are in need of screening for lung cancer, speak to a doctor. 

  • Mammograms

It’s recommended that older adults get a mammogram every 1 to 2 years . The development of new symptoms and/or family history will likely mean a more frequent screening schedule. 

  • Prostate screening

Not all doctors agree on a set screening schedule for prostate cancer. The American Cancer Society suggests that screenings begin at age 50 for those at “average risk” for developing prostate cancer, and age 45 for those with the risk factors outlined here . If you or your loved one are feeling uncertain about prostate screening, the Prostate Cancer Foundation suggests speaking with a physician about when the best time to begin screening is based on your (or your loved one’s) specific health history. 

  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm screening

Smokers, those with high blood pressure, and/or those with family histories should be screened for abdominal aortic aneurysms. This condition tends to affect males, so if you or your loved one are male but don’t have any risk factors, you may want to ask a physician if this screening is appropriate. 

  • Glaucoma screening

The Canadian Ophthalmological Society recommends beginning glaucoma screenings at age 40. Older adults over 60 should be screened for glaucoma once per year, as the risk for eye disease increases with age

  • Osteoporosis screening

Doctors generally recommend a bone mineral density test to screen for osteoporosis for female patients aged 65 and over . Male patients with risk factors for osteoporosis - smoking/heavy alcohol consumption, steroid use, or a bone fracture after age 50 - should speak with their doctors about whether they might need screening for osteoporosis. Male patients without risk factors may wish to consider screening at age 70. 

  • Pap smear

Until the age of 65, it’s recommended that pap smears be done every 3 years . As with many other screening tests, those with pre-existing conditions or new symptoms should speak to their physicians and may end up following a more frequent screening schedule, or may need to continue screenings after 65. For most people, provided that pap smears through the past decade have been negative, cervical cancer screening can stop at this age. 

  • Pneumonia vaccine

    • At age 65, everyone should receive a pneumonia vaccine unless advised otherwise by their healthcare team. 

  • Shingles/herpes zoster vaccine

    • People over 60 years of age are eligible to receive a shingles vaccine . If you are over 60, or have a loved one who is, speak to your doctor or theirs about getting vaccinated against shingles. 

  • Skin check

    • All of us, at all ages, should be aware of any changes in our skin, and should bring up new symptoms or concerns with our doctors. As we discussed in our blog post about seniors and skincare , the risk of skin cancer increases with age, so it’s especially important to check our skin - and our senior loved ones’ skin - regularly. 

After age 75, health screening schedules should be developed on an individual basis in consultation with a doctor, who will take into account your senior loved one’s “unique family history, state of health, and risk factors.”  

Your loved one’s physician will weigh the risks and benefits of various screenings. Some more invasive screenings may not be worth their risks (such as colonoscopies, which often involve some amount of anesthesia) or may be more likely to result in false positives (like mammograms ). Other screenings – like those for cholesterol or osteoporosis – may still be necessary on a consistent basis . Your senior loved one’s doctor can develop a health screening schedule for them that’s safe, comfortable, and effective.