So you’ve been watching your diet and exercising regularly and can’t remember the last time you saw your doctor?
Congratulations, you are an inspiration to us all.
But now is most definitely not the time to rest on your laurels, says Dr Ryan Harvey, from House Call Doctor.
The reactive approach to health care may have served us well through our 20’s and 30’s, but as we grow older, it’s best to get on the front foot, and stay there, says Dr Harvey.
Here then, are his 10 most vital questions to ask your GP to ensure you’re getting the most out of your health during your 50’s, and beyond:
1. How is my general health?
If you’re committed to staying healthy long into your 50’s, ask your doctor for a general health check. A health check will be different for men versus women, but will normally involve evaluating your medical history, performing several tests, and following-up any health issues that are identified.
“Having a general health check can be compared to servicing your car before the vehicle breaks down,” explains Dr Harvey. “Having a clearer picture of your physical and mental health can help prevent issues before they arise, or lessen their effects.”
2. Why have I received a bowel screening test?
From the age of 50, eligible Australians will receive a free at-home test kit from the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. Our country has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world, with one in 23 people developing the disease during their lifetime.
“The risk of bowel cancer increases with age – fortunately it’s also one of the most curable cancers if detected early,” explains Dr Harvey. “You should also ask your doctor about the risk of bowel cancer if you have a family history, or live with an inflammatory bowel disease.”
3. How are my blood sugar levels?
An estimated two million Australians are susceptible to developing type 2 diabetes, with the risk increasing after age 55. Type 2 diabetes can largely be prevented with healthy lifestyle choices such as eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly and giving up smoking.
“Factors such as age, family history and high blood sugar levels can also increase the risk of diabetes,” says Dr Harvey. “If you suspect you may be at risk, ask your doctor about having a fasting blood glucose test, because diabetes can affect many aspects of your health and wellbeing.”
4. How is my skin looking?
As there is no formal screening program in place for skin cancer throughout Australia, it’s a good idea to speak with your doctor about early detection. Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world, and men aged over 50 are particularly susceptible.
“Patients should get to know their own skin, and be aware of any changes to their moles or freckles,” says Dr Harvey. “Skin cancer rarely hurts, and therefore regular skin checks with your doctor or skin clinic can help reduce your risk.”
5. Can I improve my cholesterol?
As we get older, prescription medications and other lifestyle factors can increase our cholesterol levels, making us more susceptible to heart disease or stroke. Ask your doctor to monitor your cholesterol levels with regular checks every five years.
“High cholesterol can be improved with a balanced diet and regular exercise,” says Dr Harvey. “Australians of every age should avoid overeating foods that high in saturated fats, as these can raise cholesterol levels in the blood.”
6. Should I have a prostate examination?
Each year, over 20,000 Australian men are diagnosed with prostate cancer. Sadly, nine men die from prostate cancer every day, making it the second leading cause of cancer death nationally. If you’re a male aged over 50, prostate examinations may be your best defence.
“It’s important that men speak with their doctor about the different type of prostate examinations available, as some are more reliable than others,” says Dr Harvey. “Being aware of symptoms such as changes in urinary patterns, pain or blood in the urine is also imperative for men in their 50s.”
7. How can I lower my blood pressure?
High blood pressure often involves very few tell-tale symptoms, but can be dangerous if left untreated. Hypertension increases our chances of developing heart disease, kidney failure, diabetes and other serious health conditions.
“People should have their blood pressure checked by a doctor every two years,” says Dr Harvey. “Factors like smoking cigarettes, consuming alcohol or maintaining a sedentary lifestyle will also increase the risk of hypertension amongst older Australians.”
8. What should I know about breast cancer?
For women, the main risk factor for developing breast cancer is age. For this reason, women over 50 can access free mammograms through Breast Screen Australia. Factors such as menopause will also change breast cancer risks, and this can be discussed with your doctor on an individual basis.
“Women in their 50’s should have a mammogram every two years,” says Dr Harvey. “However, women of all ages should become familiar with the normal look and feel of their breasts, as this will help identify any unusual lumps, rashes, thickening or other potential warning signs.”
9. How is my heart?
A range of tests are available to proactively monitor your heart health. Blood tests can indicate your risk of cardiovascular disease, whilst an electrocardiogram (ECG) can detect any abnormalities in your heart activity.
“If you’re over the age of and have a family history of heart attack or stroke, you should closely monitor your cardiovascular health,” says Dr Harvey. “Tests such as an ECG can be recommended by your doctor every two to five years, depending on your personal health and medical history.”
10. How can I protect my eyesight?
Eyesight tends to decline with age, and for that reason Australians can benefit from regular eye checks after the age of 40. Women are more prone to developing glaucoma, a disease that is characterised by high fluid pressure within the eyeball.
“People who wear prescription glasses or contact lenses should also have their eyes checked every year,” says Dr Harvey. “Early detection is critical for treating serious eye conditions such as macular degeneration and cataracts.”