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Eldercare Q&A

Massachusetts ranks sixth healthiest state for seniors

Q: Is Massachusetts a healthy state for older adults?

A: Yes. According to a new national study, Massachusetts ranks sixth in the nation as healthiest for seniors.

Vermont came in first, and New Hampshire, second. Connecticut ranked tenth, Maine 11th, and Rhode Island 14th. According to the United Health Foundation’s “America’s Health Rankings® Senior Report,” the New England states were one of the healthiest regions in the nation. The least healthy states were Louisiana (50th), Mississippi (49th), Kentucky (48th), Arkansas (47th) and Oklahoma (46th).

What makes a state "healthy"?

The Foundation’s report is a comprehensive analysis of senior population health across 35 measures of elder health. Researchers evaluate a historical and comprehensive set of health, environmental, and socioeconomic data to determine national health benchmarks and state rankings. The 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.

What makes Massachusetts a better place for healthy aging than before?

Key findings include: 

  • Preventable hospitalizations dropped 8.6% to 59.3% of discharges in 2015. 
  • More seniors are spending their last days in the setting they prefer. Hospice care increased to 50.6% of decedents aged 65 and older, while hospital deaths decreased to 22.8% of decedents.
  • The number of home health care workers increased 9.3% compared to last year, as home care became an increasingly accessible option for today’s seniors.
  • 62.8% of seniors took the flu vaccine this year, a 4.5% increase over last year.
  • 85% of Massachusetts Medicare beneficiaries age 65 to 75 with diabetes had a blood lipids test—the second highest rate in the nation.
  • Seniors in the report they are feeling better: a 4.8% increase in self-reported high health status to 41.8%. But 58.2% of seniors say they are not feeling better.

What challeneges must we overcome to make the Commonwealth healthier for elders?

The United Health Foundation study found there are challenges remaining in Massachusetts:

  • Physical inactivity rates increased in 2015. One-third of seniors did not engage in any physical activity or exercise outside of work – a 15.3% increase in inactivity over last year.
  • 37.6% of seniors have four or more chronic conditions.
  • 26.7% of Massachusetts seniors are obese.
  • 8.7% of seniors smoke.
  • 16.1% of seniors have had all of their teeth removed due to tooth decay or gum disease.
  • Per capita community support spending for seniors that helps older adults stay in their homes has fallen by 23.9% over the past two years.

What does Massachusetts do really well to keep seniors healthy?

  • Our strong points in Massachusetts included:
  • We rank fifth in dental visits among people age 65+.
  • We rank sixth in home-delivered meals to elders living in poverty.
  • We rank third in community-support dollars spent on people age 65+ in poverty.
  • We rank second in elders involved with diabetes management.
  • We rank fifth in the number of people 60+ in poverty receiving food stamp benefits.
  • Hip fractures dropped 17% from 6.5 to 5.4 hospitalizations per 1,000 Medicare members.

How could healthy aging improve in Massachusetts?

On the negative side in Massachusetts:

  • We rank eighth in the number of elders who are considered obese.
  • We rank sixth in food insecurity among elders.
  • We ranked fourth in hospitalizations for hip fractures per 1,000 Medicare members.
  • Smoking increased 14% from 8.4% to 9.6% of adults aged 65+.
  • Physical inactivity increased 27% from 26.1% to 33.1% of adults aged 65+.

“Progress in key metrics such as preventable hospitalizations and hospice care show that more seniors are aging comfortably and receiving preferred types of support,” a medical adviser to United Health Foundation said.

Where can I go to learn more about healthy aging in Massachusetts?

To see the state rankings in full, visit: www.americashealthrankings.org/senior.

Healthy Living workshops promote healthy aging

Our Healthy Living program offers community workshops led by local, trained, volunteer leaders. Workshops are open to anyone who wants to learn more about managing their own chronic health conditions or that of a loved one. Attendees include those with chronic conditions as well as caregivers, family members, and anyone who wants to learn more about how disease self-management, healthy eating, balance, and exercise can help them take charge of their own lives. Learn more about Healthy Living.