Vermont is the healthiest state for seniors, rising from fourth place last year, according to the third edition of United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings® Senior Report: A Call to Action for Individuals and Their Communities. New Hampshire ranks second, improving one spot from last year. Minnesota fell to third after being ranked first for two years in a row, while Hawaii (4) and Utah (5) round out the top five states. Louisiana ranks 50th as the least healthy state for older adults, followed by Mississippi (49), Kentucky (48), Arkansas (47) and Oklahoma (46).
Vermont’s strengths as the healthiest state for seniors include low intensive care unit (ICU) use and ready availability of home-delivered meals. The top-ranked state also has high Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) enrollment, demonstrating that seniors are aware of and using the program. Like all states, Vermont also has areas where it can improve: its challenges include high prevalence of chronic drinking, low hospice care use and high prevalence of falls.
“It is heartening to see seniors’ health is improving, but our societal challenge remains finding ways to encourage more seniors to be more active,” said Rhonda Randall, D.O., senior adviser to United Health Foundation, and chief medical officer and executive vice president, UnitedHealthcare Retiree Solutions. “Strong community support is an essential part of promoting positive health among seniors. We must work together – across states, communities and our own families – to encourage all seniors to find ways to be as active as they’re able to be.”
Report Highlights Nationwide Improvements in Care Trends
The America’s Health Rankings Senior Report shows positive trends nationwide for senior health, especially for measures that look at whether seniors are getting the right care in a setting of their choice.
Key findings include:
- Preventable hospitalizations dropped 8.6 percent, from 64.9 percent of discharges for Medicare beneficiaries last year to 59.3 percent of discharges in 2015. The decrease marks an 11 percent decline in preventable hospitalizations since the 2013 edition.
- More seniors are spending their last days in the setting they prefer. Hospice care – which can be delivered in a home setting – increased from 47.5 percent to 50.6 percent of decedents aged 65 and older, while hospital deaths decreased from 25 percent to 22.8 percent of decedents. Hospice care rose 38 percent since the report’s inception in 2013.
- The number of home health care workers increased 9.3 percent compared to last year, which may indicate that home care is an increasingly accessible option for today’s seniors.
- More seniors received the flu vaccine compared to last year, rising from 60.1 percent of seniors in 2014 to 62.8 percent this year. Seniors are particularly susceptible to flu and flu-related complications, making it vital that they receive the vaccine each year.
- Seniors are reporting feeling better. The findings showed a 4.8 percent increase in self-reported high health status to 41.8 percent this year, contributing to a 9 percent increase over the past two years.
“Progress in key metrics such as preventable hospitalizations and hospice care shows that more seniors are aging comfortably and receiving preferred types of support – a trend that reflects seniors’ well-being at each step of the aging process and benefits our health care system,” said Reed Tuckson, M.D., senior medical adviser to United Health Foundation. “We are excited to be making progress toward strong, personalized care for all seniors and look forward to seeing continued momentum in this area.”
Physical Inactivity Worsens; Unhealthy Lifestyle Behaviors Pose Long-term Challenges
After showing promising improvements in last year’s edition, physical inactivity rates increased in 2015; one-third of seniors (33.1 percent) did not engage in any physical activity or exercise outside of work, marking a 15.3 percent increase from the previous year (28.7 percent).
Seniors are exhibiting other unhealthy behaviors and chronic conditions – some preventable – that could compromise their well-being and quality of life:
- 37.6 percent of seniors have four or more chronic conditions;
- 26.7 percent of seniors are obese;
- 8.7 percent of seniors smoke; and
- 16.1 percent of seniors have had all of their teeth removed due to tooth decay or gum disease.
Despite promising gains in end-of-life care metrics, community support spending per capita for seniors – support that helps older adults stay in their homes – has declined by 23.9 percent the past two years.
To see the state Rankings in full, visit: www.americashealthrankings.org/senior.
About America’s Health Rankings Senior Report
America’s Health Rankings Senior Report: A Call to Action for Individuals and Their Communities offers a comprehensive analysis of senior population health on a national and state-by-state basis across 35 measures of senior health. In commissioning the report, United Health Foundation seeks to promote discussion around the health of older Americans while driving communities, governments, stakeholders and individuals to take action to improve senior health.
Researchers draw data from more than 12 government agencies and leading research organizations to create a focused, uniquely rich dataset for measuring senior health at the state level, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Department of Labor, The Dartmouth Atlas Project, the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger and the Commonwealth Fund.
United Health Foundation also produces the annual America’s Health Rankings report. For 25 years, America’s Health Rankings® has provided an analysis of national health on a state-by-state basis by evaluating a historical and comprehensive set of health, environmental and socioeconomic data to determine national health benchmarks and state rankings. The Rankings employs a unique methodology, developed and annually reviewed by a Scientific Advisory Committee of leading public health scholars.
The America’s Health Rankings Senior Report and the America’s Health Rankings Report are designed to identify health opportunities in communities as well as multistakeholder, multidisciplinary approaches to improving the health of the population. Through its programs and grants, United Health Foundation puts a spotlight on the health of America while promoting evidence-based solutions and means to improve it. To learn more about America’s Health Rankings – and to get information on how to help improve community health – visit www.americashealthrankings.org.
About United Health Foundation
Through collaboration with community partners, grants and outreach efforts, United Health Foundation works to improve our health system, build a diverse and dynamic health workforce and enhance the well-being of local communities. United Health Foundation was established by UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) in 1999 as a not-for-profit, private foundation dedicated to improving health and health care. To date, United Health Foundation has committed more than $285 million to programs and communities around the world. We invite you to learn more at www.unitedhealthfoundation.org.