Prioritizing Preventive Care
A word from physicians about the Medicare annual wellness visit
Written by Melissa Bean Sterzick
Arthritis, heart disease, cancer, respiratory diseases and Alzheimer’s disease are the top five health concerns seniors face. While there are differences in how these conditions are prevented or treated, one thing is easy to accomplish and necessary to reduce risk: an annual visit with your primary care physician. For seniors with Medicare benefits, the annual wellness visit is completely covered and has a broader scope than an annual physical. Sara Kanamori, DO, and Alya Torna, MD, both Torrance Memorial Physician Network doctors, encourage seniors to take advantage of this benefit.
Why are annual wellness visits essential for seniors?
Dr. Alya Torna: Seniors have diverse health needs, and we want to partner in the best approach to their care. It’s very important because a wellness exam is a preventive type of care. We focus on wellness and keeping health problems from progressing. And the best part is, there is no co-pay for this visit!
Dr. Sara Kanamori: It’s an opportunity to connect with our seniors and evaluate chronic health conditions, focus on quality of life and preventive care, and provide many on-the-spot screenings. If you get your checkups regularly, your doctor will notice any differences or health changes you may not be aware of.
What health screenings are conducted at annual wellness visits?
AT: The physical exam includes checking vitals, blood pressure and BMI. We do screenings for cancer. We discuss lifestyle and health choices such as drinking and smoking. We talk about family history and check the patient for those issues. We talk about immunizations, which are especially important now for COVID-19, flu, pneumonia, shingles and other health conditions. We screen for cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, thyroid function, and we check for STDs.
We also check for depression. Besides activities and diet, addressing depression is important. If you feel better, it’s easier to take care of yourself. Women need mammograms, pap smears and pelvic exams and, after a designated age or based on family history, bone density tests. Men need prostate exams. Both need colonoscopies.
SK: During the annual wellness visit, we review a list of medications, their side effects and any other medical concerns. We want to come away with a preventive plan to help our patients stay healthy and well. We also want to make sure seniors don’t miss an opportunity to meet with a health advocate to support their needs.
What are specific symptoms patients should watch for and discuss with their doctors?
SK: Any kind of knee pain, swelling or redness exacerbated after usage may indicate osteoarthritis. When you feel pressure or pain around the chest area worsening with strenuous activities such as climbing stairs or running, it may indicate heart disease. If you are or were a smoker, you may be at risk for respiratory illnesses such as COPD.
Alzheimer’s disease is most commonly noticed by a family member. Misplacing your keys or forgetting a grocery item during shopping is normal. But if you are forgetting a close family member’s name or where you live, you should be checked by a physician.
In addition to preventive care and annual exams, how can diet and exercise improve long-term health for seniors?
SK: Healthy diet and regular exercise have many benefits. They can lower blood pressure, lower bad cholesterol and elevate good cholesterol, contribute to weight loss and relieve osteoarthritic pain. Exercise also strengthens the heart and, for a woman, strengthens bones to prevent osteoporosis. It is good for mental health as well. Avoid a sedentary lifestyle, avoid sitting in front of the TV for long hours. Avoid over-snacking, fast food and junk food. Walk 30 minutes to an hour every day.
Check regularly with your doctor if you have any health concerns. Get your preventive screenings. Keep your immunizations up-to-date, and ask your physician what you qualify for at your age. Although health and lifestyle changes can’t prevent every disease, they will definitely help you in ways you cannot always see.
Both Torrance Memorial Physician Network primary care physicians are accepting new patients: Alya Torna, MD, is located in Rancho Palos Verdes at 24909 W. Western Ave. and can be reached at 310-891-6684. Sara Kanamori, DO, is located in Torrance at 3400 Lomita Blvd. and can be reached at 310-784-8000.