An older adult sits in a wheelchair.

Staying healthy is important at any age, but it can take a little more effort as we get older. The risk of chronic diseases such as dementia and diabetes rises, and some problems that were once only a nuisance can lead to serious complications.

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But organizing your healthcare visits, keeping on top of preventive measures, watching out for early signs of disease, and carefully managing any ailments can help you maintain a high quality of life well into your golden years.

We consulted experts, official guidelines, and the agenda that’s part of Medicare Part B’s free annual wellness visit to put together a checklist that can help you stay on top of some of the most important healthcare to-dos from age 65 and beyond.

At Home

Healthy eating and regular exercise are key components of health at any age, and seniors are no exception. Both help reduce the risk of developing serious conditions such as obesity, heart disease, and some cancers, according to the National Institutes of Health. Add these simple steps to your health checklist:

  • Exercise regularly. Get at least 150 minutes of moderately intense aerobic exercise every week. Brisk walking, gardening, or a local fitness class are all good options. You should also do strengthening exercises at least twice a week. (See our report for advice on strength exercises to try.)

  • Eat a healthy diet. Incorporate fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, seafood, poultry, low-fat dairy, beans, nuts, and seeds. Cut out sugar-sweetened beverages.

  • If you smoke, try to quit. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has tips for how to get started.

  • Don’t neglect your teeth. Poor dental health can potentially lead to problematic infections, says Ian Deutchki, M.D., an assistant professor of family medicine and geriatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Plus, if problems with your teeth make it difficult for you to chew, it can be harder to eat all the foods you need to nourish yourself. Brush your teeth twice daily, floss, and see a dentist for regular checkups. (See our report for tips on how to save money on dental care.)

Vaccines

You may think of vaccines as something mainly for very young children to protect them from dangerous diseases throughout life. But vaccines are important for older adults as well.

“As we age and our immune system becomes less effective, we are more susceptible to infections,” Deutchki says. Vaccines are one of the best tools for helping to improve immunity and protect against infections.

The CDC recommends several vaccines specifically for older adults:

  • A flu shot every year.

  • One dose of Tdap, the vaccine against pertussis, diphtheria, and tetanus, if you’ve never received one before. (This is especially important if you have contact with a newborn.)

  • A tetanus booster every 10 years.

  • Two doses of the shingles vaccine Shingrix, separated by two to six months, for everyone 50 and older. (You should get this vaccine series even if you’ve had shingles before or have had the older version of the shingles vaccine, Zostavax, which isn’t as effective as Shingrix.)

  • Two pneumonia vaccines, one year apart, for everyone 65 and older. The CDC recommends getting PCV13 (Prevnar) first, followed by PPSV23 (Pneumovax).

Screening Tests

Screening tests can help prevent new chronic diseases from arising or allow you to catch them early, while they’re more treatable. But not every screening test is worth getting, and some that you used to get regularly can be stopped. A few basic tests are a good idea for everybody, but beyond that, additional tests depend on your personal risk factors, Deutchki says.

Get these tests:

  • A blood pressure test at least every year.

  • A cholesterol test every 3 to 5 years depending on the results.

  • A type 2 diabetes test every three years if you’re overweight or obese and between 40 and 70. People with certain risk factors, including a family history of diabetes, may need to be screened even if they’re not overweight, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), an independent panel of medical experts.

  • Ultrasound screening for aortic abdominal aneurysm, once, if you’re a man between 65 and 75 and you’ve ever smoked.

  • A bone density test for women, first at age 65 and then in later years depending on your results and your doctor’s recommendations. Men should consider beginning screening at age 80. (See our complete guide to osteoporosis screening.) “Fractures can be debilitating,” says Suzanne Bradley, M.D., a professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School, and medications can help prevent them in people who have osteoporosis.

A trickier question is when to get certain cancer screenings—and when to stop being screened. These questions are best dealt with in conversation with your doctor, Bradley says. He or she can help you sort through your risk factors for various cancers and decide whether you’re likely to see benefit from screening.

Depending on your gender, talk to your doctor about these tests:

  • Breast cancer screening. Recommendations vary about optimal strategies, but you should continue getting a mammogram every year or every two years. (See our guide to how often to get a mammogram.) At age 75, talk with your doctor about whether continuing screening makes sense for you.

  • Cervical cancer screening. Most women can stop regular screening after age 65, but you may need to keep screening if you have certain risk factors, including past treatment for a high-risk precancerous lesion.

  • Colorectal cancer screening. Several options exist, including a colonoscopy every 10 years, a stool test every year, sigmoidoscopy every five years with a stool test every three years, and more. (See our guide to colorectal cancer screening.) Most people should stop colorectal cancer screening at age 75.

  • Prostate cancer screening. The USPSTF recommends against prostate cancer screening for men 70 and older. Even for men younger than that, screening may offer little benefit, so talk with your doctor about whether getting tested is right for you.

Other Health Concerns

In addition to the screening tests listed above, there are a few other health concerns worth paying attention to. Make a point of discussing these with your doctor at your next appointment.

Mental health. According to the National Institute on Aging, depression may look a little different in older adults than it does in younger people. Sadness, for example, may not be the primary symptom; you may find yourself feeling tired or grumpy. Confusion or memory problems can also be a sign, Bradley notes. People can appear to have dementia when they may actually be depressed, she says. If your doctor diagnoses depression, medication can help, but recent research suggests that cognitive behavioral therapy might be a better first step. Exercise and seeking out social activities can also help.

Sexual health. Though you may no longer be at risk for an unplanned pregnancy, practicing safe sex is still important. “Older people are at risk of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV,” Bradley says. If you’re sexually active, talk with your doctor about which screening tests for sexually transmitted infections you need to receive.

Memory. Alzheimer’s disease is the fifth leading cause of death for people 65 and older, and by 2050 it’s expected that almost 14 million seniors will have Alzheimer’s. Some research suggests that exercise can help improve brain function, and maintaining heart health may also contribute to brain health.

It’s important to talk with your doctor if you notice changes in your memory or ability to do the things you usually do, but scientists haven’t been able to develop treatments that can stop or reverse dementia once it starts, Deutchki says. Still, your doctor can help you rule out other possible causes of cognitive changes, including conditions other than dementia and certain prescription drugs, such as sleeping pills.