"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
This month I'm reminded of those wise words from Ben Franklin every time I look at my March calendar . . . because it is FILLED with prevention appointments! I've got my annual physical, a mammogram, blood work, a dental check-up/cleaning, and a check-in with my rheumatologist! That's a lot of prevention. But. Like Ben says, it's worth pounds of cure.
So. I got to thinking about preventive care . . . and what a powerful tool it is in our quest to age with intention.
Preventive care . . . is not always fun or appealing. I mean, who likes to go get that annual mammogram or that (hopefully) once-a-decade colonoscopy? Not me, for sure. But, like so many other things in that "ounce of prevention" category, I know they'll be good for me -- and will help me move forward with a greater level of healthful confidence.
These days, there is much talk of "self-care" -- not just in the treat-yourself category (although that stuff is fine to do, too), but in the taking-care-of-your-health category. (Ben Franklin's "ounce of prevention" . . . ) Again, "self-care" is not always fun -- but important in preparing us to age "well." Staying active. Building strength. Eating well. Managing stress. Getting plenty of sleep. Building in brain-work. Cultivating hobbies. Connecting with other people. Scheduling regular visits with our health care "team."
Let's focus on that last one for a minute . . . Scheduling regular visits with our health care "team." (I like to refer to my health care providers as my "team" -- because it really does take a village, y'know?) Ideally, by this point in our lives, we've been able to connect with a primary care doctor that we like and trust; someone we've been able to develop a relationship with over a few years. It's getting harder to do this these days for a variety of reasons: sometimes there are certain insurance restrictions or hurdles, and sometimes it's a challenge to even find a doctor, as they seem to be coming-and-going a lot more than they used to, and certainly it's even more challenging in smaller towns and rural areas (there are no health care providers of any type, for example, in the small community where our up-north cabin is located). But, if you can, it's a good idea to find a doctor (or, at least, a medical practice) for yourself -- and establish a relationship that can last a while.
Who else should be part of your health care "team?"
- Your dentist (for regular check-ups and cleanings, and, of course, to fix any problems)
- Your eye doctor (this gets more important the older we get)
- Your dermatologist (the older we get, the more likely our sun-exposure is to "catch up" with us)
- Any specialists you may need to see regularly (like my rheumatologist)
And what should we have "done" on an "ounce of prevention" basis each year? I found a variety of preventive care checklists for women at all ages and stages of life from a simple Google search. Here's a basic compendium I put together for women age 40 and over:
- Flu shot, every year
- Tetanus booster, every 10 years
- Shingrix vaccine for shingles, at age 50
- Two pneumonia vaccines, starting at 65. The CDC recommends a dose of what’s known as PCV13 (Prevnar) first. At least one year later, get a dose of PPSV23 (Pneumovax).
- Of course, we should also pay attention to developing/changing recommendations for Covid vaccinations and boosters. (It's now possible for those with compromised immune systems to get a 4th shot/booster. I'm scheduled for mine tomorrow. Yippee.)
- Breast cancer: At 40, talk with your doctor about when to start mammography screening. Most women can begin at age 50. However, if you have risk factors for breast cancer, such as a family history, it may be advisable to start in your 40s. Consider having a mammogram every two years if you’re at low risk or annually if you are at higher risk for breast cancer. Recommendations differ on when to stop screening. At age 75, talk with your doctor about whether you should continue having regular mammograms.
- Cervical cancer: Have a Pap smear every three years. You can have the test every five years if you get tested for HPV at the same time. Most women can stop having regular Pap smears at age 65. Talk with your doctor about whether you should continue.
- Osteoporosis: Have a bone density test at age 65, and be screened again every two to three years. You may want talk to your doctor about screening earlier if you have certain risk factors, such as family history, low body weight, smoking, thyroid disease, early or surgical menopause, a history of taking prednisone, or a history of fractures. (Because of my rheumatoid arthritis, I started having regular bone density tests in my 40s.)
- Sexually transmitted disease: Get tested annually for chlamydia and gonorrhea as long as you have new or multiple sex partners, or a partner who has a sexually transmitted infection.
- Blood pressure: Have it checked at least once every two years. (I don't know about you, but I can't walk into any doctor's office without getting my blood pressure checked.)
- Cholesterol: If you have no heart disease risk factors, get a blood test to check cholesterol levels at age 45. After that, test every three to five years depending on results. (My doctor does this every year.)
- Type 2 diabetes: If you’re overweight or obese, have a family history of diabetes, or have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, get a fasting blood glucose test and an HbA1c test to measure long-term blood sugar control every three years depending on results.
- Colon cancer: At age 50, talk to your doctor about having either a colonoscopy every 10 years, a stool test every year, or sigmoidoscopy every five years with a stool test every three years. Other colon cancer screening options are available; ask your doctor what may be best for you. Other colon cancer screening options exist; ask your doctor about which may be best for you. You can stop colon cancer screening at age 75.
It's important to be mindful of our health throughout our lives, but it becomes even more important as we get older. Let's follow Ben Franklin's advice . . . practice an ounce of prevention to avoid the pounds of cure. Do what you can now . . . to keep the wheels from falling off your bus later. (Or to have a "team" in place when the wheels start to get wobbly, as they do. . . as we age.)
Have you scheduled annual check-ups with your health care "team" this year? And how many health screenings have you got planned in the coming months?
Enjoy your weekend, and I'll see you on Monday.