Navigating the Health Care System: Tips for Staying Healthy at 50+
Rand: The U.S. population is getting older. In the next 10 years, 77 million baby boomers will turn 65. So there’s never really been a more relevant time to answer the question: What do we need to do to stay healthy as we age? AHRQ Director Dr. Carolyn Clancy is with us to talk about those answers. Dr. Clancy, thank you so much for being with us.
Dr. Clancy: Thank you.
Rand: Tell us about AHRQ’s two new checklists created in partnership with AARP that help remind men and women over age 50 that preventive care is vital to staying healthy throughout your life.
Dr. Clancy: For both men and women over 50, the daily steps to good health are ones we’ve all probably heard before: eat right, exercise and don’t smoke. But the checklists, one for men and one for women, tell us about other steps we need to take such as getting certain health screenings or taking certain preventative medicines because they’ve really been proven to improve health.
Rand: Why is it smart to begin paying attention to certain screenings as we age?
Dr. Clancy: Unlike diagnostic tests that can help confirm whether you have a disease, screening tests are used to check for problems before symptoms appear. Screening tests are available that can help identify specific diseases early, when they can be treated more effectively. For example, evidence shows that all women 65 years and older should receive a bone density scan to check for osteoporosis. And women at higher risk may want to have this test as early as age 60. If early signs of osteoporosis are detected, women can work with their doctors to make informed choices about treatment.
Rand: How do you see people using these checklists?
Dr. Clancy: People can use the checklists, which are available in both English and Spanish, to learn more about screening tests, preventative medicines, and daily steps they can take to stay healthy. They can also take the checklists with them to their medical appointments. The checklists make it easier for you to start a conversation with your doctor about which screening tests and medicines are right for you. Also, people may see a chart in their doctor’s office that gives timeframes starting at age 50 and going through age 80 and older. It maps out for health care professionals when they should recommend certain preventive tests and medicines to their patients.
Rand: Any last general health tips for middle-aged people?
Dr. Clancy: My general advice would be similar to what I would tell younger patients: Taking good care of yourself is important regardless of your age, but there are some diseases and conditions that you should pay special attention to as you get older. Talk with your doctor about all the things you can do to get healthy and stay healthy, including having the screening tests that are appropriate for you. I’m Dr. Carolyn Clancy, and that’s my advice on how to navigate the health care system.
Rand: The checklists and timeline are based on advice from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel of experts in primary care and prevention. All of these items are available for free online at ahrq.gov/clinic/ppipix.htm.