Mar 15, 2023
5 tips for seniors: Getting the most out of your annual checkup
an older female patient discussing her health concerns with her doctor during her annual wellness checkup

You’ve picked your insurance plan for the year. Now, it’s time to start using your benefits, starting with an annual wellness exam.

While an annual checkup is important for everyone, that’s especially true for older adults, who are more likely to develop chronic conditions as they age, said Dr. J.B. Sobel, chief medical officer for Cigna Medicare. An annual exam can help detect potential health issues early, allowing them to be addressed before they worsen, he added.

“By meeting with a trusted primary care provider early in the year, you can highlight the things that are important to you and work together to develop a plan for the year ahead,” Sobel said. “This will ensure you live with vitality, happiness, and better health.”

Many providers reach out to patients about scheduling an annual wellness exam. If you don’t hear from your provider, be sure to contact them.

Medicare plans offer certain annual exams at no extra charge, such as a Welcome to Medicare exam for new customers or a Yearly Wellness Visit. Some Medicare Advantage plans offer more comprehensive coverage for annual visits. And customers can even get an incentive for participating. Your insurer can provide details about your specific coverage.

Sobel offers the following tips to ensure you get the most of an annual checkup.

1. Prepare. Before the visit, write down anything you’d like to talk to your health care provider about, including changes to your health over the past year. Ask plenty of questions during the visit and take lots of notes. You might even want to take along a family member or another loved one to ensure you understand everything your provider says.

2. Be open and honest. You may be tempted to make things look rosier than they are when talking to your health care provider, but resist that temptation. Not telling the truth can lead to overlooking early warning signs or receiving the wrong diagnosis or prescription. If you are developing bad habits, talk freely about them. You won’t be judged, and talking openly and honestly is the only way your provider can help you reach your goals.

3. Mental health matters. Your emotional health impacts your physical health. Many people think depression is a natural part of aging, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Talk to your doctor if you are feeling sad, anxious, or hopeless. A number of treatments may be covered by Medicare, such as therapy and/or medication.

4. Monitor medications. Adults 65 and older tend to take more medications than younger people. This can increase the risk for adverse reactions, such as cognitive impairment and falls. For that reason, it’s a good idea to take your medications to your annual wellness exam and talk with your doctor about potential problems. Don’t forget about any over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, or nutritional supplements you may be taking.

5. Schedule screenings and get vaccines. You may need other important health screenings and vaccines, depending on your age and gender. These can include colon cancer screening, bone density testing, mammogram, flu shot, or COVID-19 immunization. Talk to your provider about the screenings and vaccines you’ve had and those you’ll need in the future. Schedule anything you need as soon as possible. You may even be able to do that before you leave the office. And don’t forget to visit your eye doctor and your dentist. These visits are covered in many Medicare Advantage plans and are an important part of your overall well-being.

“You wouldn’t drive your vehicle without the proper preventive maintenance so please don’t ignore preventive maintenance for your most prized possession – your health,” Sobel said. “An annual wellness exam is a great place to start.”

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