Purpose: To review important current issues, studies, recommendations and controversies relating to preventive medicine and screening in older people. STUDY SELECTION/DATA ABSTRACTION: MEDLINE searches for literature on prevention and screening with regard to older adults as well as each individual condition reviewed; bibliographical reviews of textbooks, journal articles, government and advocacy organization task force reports, and recommendations. Important information synthesized and discussed qualitatively.
Data synthesis: Data and recommendations are presented for most common preventive services, including primary prevention and screening for cardiovascular diseases and risk factors, common malignancies, endocrine and infectious diseases, osteoporosis, sensory deficits, and dementia.
Conclusions: The goal of preventive medicine in older people should be not only reduction of premature morbidity and mortality but preservation of function and quality of life. Attempts to prevent diseases of old age should start in youth; the older the patient, the less likely the possibility or value of primary and secondary prevention, and the greater the stress must be on tertiary prevention. Age 85 is proposed as a general cutoff range beyond which conventional screening tests are unlikely to be of continued benefit; however, care must always be individualized. Emphasis should be on offering the best proven and most effective interventions to the individuals at highest risk of important problems such as cardiovascular diseases, malignancies, infectious and endocrine diseases, and other important threats to function in older people. Breast cancer screening, smoking cessation, hypertension treatment, and vaccination for infectious diseases are thus far among the most firmly proven and well accepted specific preventive measures, with physical exercise also being particularly promising. Although more research is needed, a current working approach is necessary and possible. A summary table of recommendations and information tools such as reminders or flowsheets may be valuable in helping the physician carry out prevention and screening programs.