The nation’s most and least healthy seniors live on opposites ends of the Mississippi River, according to a new report.
The seniors with the best health live in Minnesota, while those with the worst live in Mississippi. But, nationally, health among those age 65 or older is improving, according to the America’s Health Rankings Senior Report, from the United Health Foundation. The report, out this month, assesses how seniors perform on 34 measures split into two related categories: actions that affect seniors’ future health — known as determinants — and those that reflect past health, labeled outcomes.
Determinants predict outcomes. So Vermont, Minnesota and Utah, where determinant scores are much higher than outcome scores, will likely see an improvement in health over time, the report finds. In Louisiana, Nevada, Mississippi and Oklahoma, outcome scores are ahead of determinant scores, a sign that senior health in those states may decline.
Minnesota ranked top for its combined health determinants score and second for health outcomes. The state also ranked third overall on the relative health of its entire population, regardless of age.
It was among the top five for several determinant categories: dental visits, volunteering, high share of quality nursing home beds, low share of food insecurity, high share of prescription drug coverage and easy access to home health care workers. It was also among the top five in several outcome-related categories, such as low hip-fracture hospitalization rates, high share of able-bodied seniors, low premature death rates, low rate of full-mouth tooth extractions and few poor mental health days per month.
Mississippi ranked among the bottom five states on 14 of the 34 measures and ranked worst on measures of senior poverty, seniors reporting very good or excellent heath, able-bodied seniors and premature deaths. It ranks well in two areas, however: chronic drinking and flu vaccinations. It was also the lowest-ranked state on the all-ages report.
Health determinants in the report are broken up into four categories: behaviors individuals can control; community and environment measures that reflect conditions conducive to healthy living; policies; and the quality of clinical care. Seniors in California are on their best behavior (calculated by rates of smoking, drinking, obesity, etc.). Seniors in Louisiana are worst. The policy environment is best in Hawaii, Pennsylvania and New York and worst in Oklahoma, Wyoming and Montana.
There are huge disparities on some health measures, too. Take obesity. The rate among non-Hispanic Asian seniors is just 7.6 percent. Among non-Hispanic black seniors it’s more than four times as high at 35.5 percent. Seniors with college degrees are almost three times more active than those with less than a high school degree.
The report contained some good news: There were some improvements to senior health from last year’s report. Seniors are more active, have better control of their end-of-life care, are better at avoiding hospitalization, and have greater access to higher-quality home care. Still, flu vaccinations were down, and food insecurity was up.
Data for many of the individual 34 measures were pulled from government sources such as the Census Bureau, Health and Human Services Department and Centers for Disease Control.