Consider health screenings part of routine preventive maintenance on your most valuable asset, especially as you age.
Owner-operators can be quite meticulous in keeping up with regularly scheduled truck maintenance, but maintaining their health often takes a back seat. It’s understandable for those in long haul, whose limited time at home tends to shift to other needs.
Nevertheless, the need for routine health screenings – especially for those older than 50 – doesn’t go away. To maintain good health and detect potential problems, doctors recommend making time for critical screenings at home or, where possible, on the road.
Services driver Dan Moak gets a physical from his family doctor every six months. That’s how he discovered his high cholesterol and diabetes.
A complete annual physical, including a cardiogram and blood work to screen for glucose and prostate problems, is a good idea for older men, says Dr. Charles Briggs, physician for American Business Medical Services, which operates a clinic at the Jessup Truck Stop near Baltimore.
Most of the frequently needed tests can be done quickly. A physical costs about $150 for the most basic tests, such as blood work and checks on the eyes, ears, nose, throat and reflexes. Such an exam could reveal the need for more specialized tests.
Truckers’ health problems stem from being overweight and inactive, Briggs says. “Living a healthy lifestyle is hard when you sit all day and have a heavy diet,” he says.
Besides getting regular exercise and eating healthy foods, Briggs says, the most important health practice is getting regular physicals and screenings. “The earlier you catch a problem, the better the long-term results,” he says.
The few clinics found at truck stops usually are quite limited, offering U.S. Department of Transportation physicals, chiropractic services or dentistry, though some are full-service health clinics, says Mindy Long of NATSO.
“For drivers without insurance, some doctors and dentists will create payment options to work with them to come up with a treatment plan,” Long says.
Briggs stresses the importance of drivers having one or more hometown physicians to conduct screenings and monitor ongoing conditions. “It is hard for them to fit in appointments with their driving schedule, but they need someone to follow them long term, to spot long-term problems,” Briggs says.
Scheduling is indeed difficult, says Knoxville, Tenn.-based Paul McMillian, an owner-operator for Jones Motor.
“We are always out here and on the go,” McMillian says. “What we really need is quick dental care. It takes at least three days to go in and get a tooth pulled.”
Time constraints are no excuse, says Ken Long of Texas City, Texas, an owner-operator leased to Quality Carriers. He says truckers need to get screenings at least once a year, which will save money in the long run.
“It’s up to the individual to go to the family doctor, take vitamins and eat veggies,” he says. Long, 61, makes regular visits to the doctor, goes once a year for a complete physical and says it is important for older men to monitor cholesterol levels and the prostate.
“The [DOT] physical every two years is not enough,” he says. “They don’t do the in-depth physical with blood tests that you need.”
Check in your hometown for free health screenings for problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure and prostate cancer.
Experts recommend a complete physical every year or two. Certain screenings should be done yearly or at your doctor’s recommendation, especially for patients older than 50.
Sleep apnea: If you have symptoms of sleep apnea, your doctor may recommend a sleep study for further diagnosis. Symptoms include waking up with a sore or dry throat, waking up during the night choking or gasping, headaches in the morning, sleepiness during the day, continually waking up during the night or insomnia. Sleep apnea can cause a stroke, heart failure or hypertension. AGE: Any, but commonly older than 40
Eye disease: Routine eye exams every two to four years and an annual glaucoma test can check eye pressure and eye health. AGE: 40 or later for routine exams; 60 for glaucoma, or 40 for those at risk
Skin cancer: A doctor may do a full body exam annually to detect precancerous or cancerous growths. AGE: 50
Diabetes: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests testing for diabetes if you have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity or a family history of the condition. Untreated diabetes and prolonged high sugar levels can lead to heart disease, vision loss, kidney disease and low circulation that can result in amputation. AGE: Any
Sexually transmitted diseases: If you have had more than one sexual partner or notice unusual symptoms, talk with your doctor about STD screenings, which include fluid and tissue tests. AGE: Any
Cholesterol: Cholesterol checks measure total cholesterol as well as “good” and “bad” cholesterol, which can be an indicator of heart disease. Screening should be at least every five years, or more frequently when levels are off. AGE: 20
Blood pressure: Because blood pressure at high levels can indicate a heart risk, it should be measured at least every two years. If you have high blood pressure, a doctor may suggest at-home screenings, but self-tests should not substitute for professional medical care. AGE: 18
Prostate cancer: According to www.webmd.com, prostate cancer screening should be done yearly through a digital rectal exam and blood test. AGE: 50. Or begin at 40 if you are black or have a family history of prostate cancer.
Colorectal cancer: Typical test frequencies: fecal occult blood test, annually; sigmoidoscopy, every five years, or air-contrast barium enema every five years; colonoscopy, every 10 years. Ask your doctor which screening option is best for you. AGE: 50