Moseying along and hoping for the best is the kind of approach many of us take towards our health. If nothing feels too wrong, if nothing actively hurts, then why bother wasting your GP’s time?
But that head-in-the-sand approach could be the thing that turns a manageable, treatable condition into a life-threatening one, if all you had to do was take advantage of a free check-up.
Fortunately for older people, there are a number of health checks available which look at the issues that directly affect them.
It’s not always obvious what health screenings are available – so here are the most vital ones to sign up for:
Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK, with 8 out 10 cases occurring in over 60s. And sorry, gents, but you’re more at risk of developing it than women.
Aged 60-74? You’ll be invited to do a home bowel cancer test every two years, and if you’re over 74, you can request a home screening kit by calling 0800 707 6060. You’ll be sent a Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBt) – not as scary as it sounds – which you use to record stool samples on and then send off to a lab to be analysed.
Within two weeks you’ll have the results, and if anything is abnormal, you may need to undergo a colonoscopy.
Cholesterol + blood pressure
Who doesn’t love a freebie? And this is one that could actually add years to your life!
The NHS dubs their health check for 40-74-year-olds a ‘free midlife MOT’ and it’s a chance to have your circulatory and vascular health thoroughly looked at.
You’ll undergo blood pressure, cholesterol and BMI tests, and have your heart health assessed.
The results are geared towards helping you switch to a healthier lifestyle that will in turn reduce the possibility of strokes, dementia, diabetes, heart and kidney disease.
It basically ticks all the boxes and, according to the NHS, every year saves 650 lives, prevents 1,600 heart attacks and strokes, and detects 20,000 cases of Type 2 diabetes and kidney disease. It’s a bit of an all-round winner.
Better known as the smear test, this quick (if slightly uncomfortable) screening is available every three years for women aged 26-49, and every five years for 50-64 year olds.
It isn’t used to detect cancer, but aims to check the health of the cells of the cervix.
Any changes or abnormal cells are then investigated further, as it’s these abnormalities that can lead to cancer.
On average, one in 20 women receive abnormal test results, resulting in 3,000 being diagnosed with cervical cancer every year – that’s 2% of all female cancer diagnoses.
However, the NHS says ‘it is estimated that early detection and treatment can prevent up to 75% of cervical cancers’, so don’t go ignoring your cervical screening letter.
As you get older, the chances of developing breast cancer gradually increase. That’s why 50-70 year olds are offered free breast screenings, and, if you’re over 70, you can self-refer. However, by 2016 you should be invited to take part up to the age of 74.
During the screening, known as a mammogram, your breasts are individually X-rayed. The process is so high-tech that it can detect cancerous abnormalities before any signs can be spotted physically.
Sure, deteriorating peepers is just part of growing older – but you still need to get them tested. A routine eye test could mean a new pair of glasses, but it could also mean an early diagnosis of diabetes and glaucoma.
Biannual eye tests are free for over 60s, and over 70s may even be entitled to an annual check, depending where you live.
Sunblock, sunblock, sunblock. You know the drill – but it’s also important to keep an eye on any pesky moles that have changed size, shape, colour, or have begun to feel tender.
In the last 30 years, melanoma deaths have trebled amongst over-65s – you don’t want to become a statistic.
You can check your skin yourself and then get in touch with your GP if you have any concerns, or sign up for a screening at a clinic such as SkinHealthUK.
Visit www.nhs.co.uk for more details on available screenings, and also contact your GP if you are worried about anything relating to your health.