If you subtract the statistics from just three states – New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, which account for 10% of the population but 42% of COVID deaths – the remaining 47 states’ death rates are about as low as Luxembourg’s and Macedonia’s. But while the coronavirus may be less fatal than thought, it’s still every bit as scary.
Maybe this is why so many Americans have been putting off screenings and other health appointments they’d be better off keeping.
As of mid-April, the number of colonoscopies was down 90% from 2019. Mammograms and Pap tests were each down 94% compared to the 2016-2019 average. And the CDC estimates that there were a million fewer emergency room visits each week from March through mid-April.
For most people worried about COVID infection, putting off screenings and blood tests won’t do much harm over the short term. But the short term has a nasty way of turning into the long term. And over the long term, cancers can grow to the point where they’re harder and more invasive to treat. A neglected cavity in a tooth can lead to a root canal. Blood coagulant levels can change from one week to the next.
That’s why it’s a good idea to keep these kinds of appointments:
Cancer Screenings The rate of colon cancer gets higher with age; every year, 2.5% of 75-year-olds and 3.5% of 85-year-olds are diagnosed with it. That’s why the American Cancer Society and the American College of Radiology advise colorectal screenings for everyone over 50. If you don’t want to undergo the rigors of a colonoscopy, there’s also annual fecal immunochemical testing, along with other less uncomfortable alternatives.
A study of 12,000 women over 80 found that 56% of women who got mammograms irregularly plus 33% of women who didn’t get mammograms at all were diagnosed with stage I breast cancer, compared to 68% of women who’d had mammograms regularly. Only 32% of women who’d had regular mammograms were found to have stage II, III or IV breast cancer, compared to 44% of those who’d had mammograms irregularly and 67% of those who’d skipped them.
Blood Tests If you’ve had a blood clot and are taking a blood thinner such as warfarin to prevent another one, you may need weekly blood tests to measure how much anticoagulant is in your bloodstream and adjust your dosage accordingly. “If there’s not enough anticoagulant to prevent a blood clot, that’s a big risk,” says Dr. Alok Khorana, a Cleveland Clinic hematologist. But if their level is too high, they have a risk of clotting.”
Emergency Room Visits Coronavirus won’t stop strokes and heart attacks from happening. Yet, according to CDC data, large hospital systems nationwide have been admitting up to 50% fewer patients for heart attacks and 39% fewer for strokes.
“Most health institutions in the United States have been very aggressive in ensuring appropriate masking and social distancing by employees and patients,” Dr.Khorana explains, and they’re “as safe as they can possibly be.”
So if you’re feeling chest pain or other warning signs of heart attack or stroke, a hospital’s the safest place to be.
Physical Therapy Forgoing physical therapy can prolong painful sports and other injuries and slow recuperation from surgery. And with the growth of teletherapy, you can enjoy all the benefits of in-person visits, except for hands-on massages.
Everyone’s different, so there’s no hard-and-fast rule about which visits are okay to delay and which aren’t. So talk with your doctors (by phone) to decide on the best balance between risks and benefits.
If you or a family member needs home health assistance, or if you have any questions about coping with COVID-19 or retirement years in general, please feel free to call or email us. Just as we always have, we’ll be happy to give you honest, objective answers.