How Often Should a Healthy Older Adult See a Doctor?

By Korin Miller |

Some experts say that the annual physical is a waste of time. Here’s why it’s not.

doctor examining older woman’s glands

Some seniors seem to be at the doctor’s office all the time. But what if you don’t have any chronic health ailments? What if you feel great most of the time?

Resist the urge to take an “if it ain’t broke” approach. Scheduling routine checkups is the smartest way to stay on top of your health.

But how often should you do that? The answer to this seemingly straightforward question depends on whom you ask. Some experts have suggested that an annual physical is a waste of time, since it doesn’t seem to improve life expectancy or prevent disease, according to a 2012 review that included more than 180,000 people. (The review excluded people older than 65.)

But here’s the rub: All health is local. If you take your visit seriously, and go prepared with questions or concerns, you are far more likely to identify potential health problems while they’re still over the horizon.

Here are four compelling reasons to keep seeing your doctor at least once a year.

1. You Might Spot Silent Symptoms

“Frequently, health issues can be silent—and not noticed by the patient—until fairly late in the course of illness,” says Susan Besser, M.D., a primary care physician at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. “Having regular, periodic doctor’s visits helps to catch potential health problems when they are early in the process.”

High blood pressure is just one example of a condition that often doesn’t cause any symptoms, yet your doctor can easily detect it. High cholesterol, high blood sugar, and kidney disease are among other common issues that you probably wouldn’t know about on your own—your doctor, however, may be able to recognize warning signs based on standard measurements at a routine physical.

During a physical, your doctor should also review your weight, body mass index (BMI), pulse, heart rate, oxygen levels, and general muscle tone, Dr. Besser says.

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2. You Won’t Forget About Important Screenings

When and how often you need certain screenings depend on a variety of factors, including your age and personal risk profile. A yearly physical is a great time to discuss these with your doctor:

  • Blood tests for cholesterol, lipid, and triglyceride levels
  • Colonoscopy
  • Gynecological exam and mammogram for women
  • Prostate screening for men

3. You’ll Stay on Top of Immunizations

Vaccines are important throughout your life, and there are a few that are specifically recommended for older adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that seniors should get vaccinated against pneumonia and shingles, and everyone needs a flu shot once a year. You might also be due for a tetanus and diphtheria (Td) booster; you need one every 10 years.

Seeing your doctor annually is an easy way to make sure someone is keeping track of the vaccines you need and advising you on when to get them.

4. You’ll Get Your Health Questions Addressed

Even if you’re pretty healthy, a checkup is a chance to have a one-on-one with a medical expert, so why not take advantage of it? Whether you’re considering making some changes to your diet, wondering if you should do more strength training, or debating if a supplement your friend recommended is worthwhile, now’s the time to get some solid advice.

Get Ready for Your Appointment

Check with your health plan about benefits. Or learn more about Medicare coverage for “yearly wellness visits” and other tests, items, or services here. Plus, follow these four simple rules to get the most out of your doctor visit.

Another great way to stay healthy: Keep moving! SilverSneakers gives you free, unlimited access to 14,000 gyms, YMCAs, and other fitness locations around the country, plus classes designed to keep older adults strong and independent. Check your eligibility instantly here.

Meal Plan for Heart Health