Aging is a double-edged sword. On one hand, our years and experience give us the perspective to seek out the important things in life, value time with loved ones, and really enjoy our hobbies and other pursuits. On the other hand, as our bodies change and mature we need to be more mindful of our health and pay close attention to differences we experience. We're not getting any younger! Part of the beauty of the Golden Girls lifestyle is the ability to find housemates with similar interests and goals. In order to make the most of our time with our new housemates, women over 50 should maintain good relationships with their doctors and keep regular medical appointments. Early detection is key for the successful treatment and management of health concerns. But where to start? The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, a division of the US Department of Health and Human Services, suggests women over 50 complete 10 essential health checks.
* Mammogram. More than 3 million cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each year in the United States, with most of those occurring in women ages 40 and older. Regular mammograms are a key early detection tool. Early detection, combined with new treatments and a better understanding of the disease, have led to much improved survival rates.
* BRCA1 and BRCA2 testing. If you have a strong family history of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, or peritoneal cancer, you should speak with your doctor about getting tested for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. Studies show that BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations account for about 5 percent to 10 percent of all breast cancers and 15 percent of ovarian cancers overall.
* Pap Smear. Women are advised to get a pap smear every three years until the age of 65. Pap smears help detect cervical cancer. Most doctors suggest that women over the age of 65 can stop having pap smears, so long as the patient had at least three negative tests in the past 10 years, or if she has had a hysterectomy.
* Colonoscopy. Women under the age of 75 are advised to get a colonoscopy to look out for colorectal cancer. One of the main benefits of a colonoscopy is that doctors can remove small polyps during the procedure before they become cancerous. According to the American Cancer Society, nine out of 10 people whose colon cancer is discovered early will be alive five years later.
* Depression. It's totally normal to feel sad occasionally, but if you find yourself feeling hopeless or having a lack of interest or pleasure in doing things for more than two weeks, you might be depressed. It's important to talk to your doctor about being screened for depression. As we age, emotional health is just as important as physical health.
* Blood Glucose. It's important to have your blood sugar levels tested regularly to see if you have diabetes. This is especially important if you have high blood pressure or if you take medication for high blood pressure. Diabetes, if untreated, is a particularly insidious disease that can affect the heart, brain, eyes, feet, kidneys, and nerves.
* Cholesterol. Are you a tobacco user or overweight? Do you have a personal history of heart disease or blocked arteries? Do you have a male relative in your family that had a heart attack before age 50 or a female relative before age 60? If any of these factors apply to you, consult your doctor about getting your cholesterol levels checked. High cholesterol is one of the major risk factors leading to heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
* Blood Pressure. Women over the age of 50 should have their blood pressure checked at least every two years. High blood pressure is a concern because it can lead to coronary heart disease, heart failure, stroke, kidney failure, and other health problems.
* Chest X-Ray. If you are a smoker, quitting smoking is one of the best health moves you can make. People aged between 55 and 80 that have a 30-pack-per-year smoking history, or smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years should talk to their doctors about being screened for lung cancer. Currently, the only approved screening for lung cancer is a chest x-ray.
* DEXA Scan. A DEXA scan is critical for determining whether you have osteoporosis. Screening is recommended starting at age 65. Osteoporosis cannot be cured, but treatment can help make the condition more bearable.
All of these health checks are important, but it's crucial to maintain a strong relationship with your doctor or healthcare provider. Keep up your good health to make the most of your Golden Girls years!
Bonnie Moore, 70, is the President and Founder of Golden Girls Network, the only nationwide network that helps mature adults find roommates and access the resources they need to make shared living work. She is also the author of How to Start a Golden Girls Home.
*This article first appeared on the Golden Girls Network blog.