Health ranking of Kentucky seniors moves up, but they are still last in health outcomes, says America’s Health Rankings

By Melissa Patrick and Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

Kentucky moved up three spots, from 48th to 45th, in the fourth annual Senior America’s Health Rankings Report. But the state ranked last in health outcomes and 44th in determiners of those outcomes, so it remains one of the least healthy places in the nation for seniors to live.

Among negative measures, Kentucky seniors ranked first in preventable hospitalizations, second in tooth extractions and premature death; and third in physical inactivity and hospital re-admissions within 30 days of discharge.

Among positive measures, the state also ranked poorly: for example, 46th in the percentage (34%) of seniors who reported that their health status was good or excellent and 48th in the percentage (56.9%) who reported having no disability.

The state’s best ranking was No. 3 in influenza vaccinations, reflecting an increase to 70 percent from 62 percent of seniors vaccinated in the past two years. It was No. 8 in the percentage of seniors with arthritis who self-report arthritis or joint pain does not limit their usual activities. It tied for 10th in the percentage of seniors with a “creditable prescription-drug plan” and was 17th in the percentage of senior who reported having a mammogram or a colonoscopy or similar screening.

Kentucky ranked low in volunteer activity by seniors (45th) and nursing home quality (43rd) but has fewer people in nursing homes who perhaps shouldn’t be there. Only 7 percent of its nursing-home residents, the No. 7 ranking, were considered “low care” and thus candidates for living in less restrictive environments. However, it was 46th in the number of personal-care and home-health aides per 1,000 adults aged 75 or older.

The state tied for 44th in the percentage (32.1) of seniors who reported falling in the previous 12 months. It was 44th in the percentage (42.8) of seniors who were enrolled in hospice during the
last six months of life after being diagnosed with a condition that carried high probability of death.

It was also 44th in a related measure, the percentage (16.6) of seniors who spent seven or more days in an intensive- or critical-care unit during their last six months. Generally, use of an ICU correlates with the number of ICU beds, which “could indicate a supply-induced remand,” the report says. “Overusing the critical care system often
goes against the wishes of dying patients
and is costly. Research indicates many
patients receive care they would not
choose in their final days.”

The rankings are based on 35 measures of health, as well as supplemental measures such as education and mental health. Combined, they paint a picture of how individual behavior, our communities and their environments, health policy and access to care influence health.

One area that Kentucky consistently ranks low in is government support for seniors in poverty. It was 45th again this year, spending $382 per senior when federal, state and local funds were all counted. Massachusetts, which ranked first in overall senior health this year, spends $4,053 per senior in this category, more than any other state but Alaska, which has many rural elderly. The national average, which has been declining, is $811.

Kentucky leads the nation in smoking, so it’s no surprise that its seniors also rank in the bottom five states for this negative category (47th). Kentucky seniors’ smoking rate is 12.4 percent; the national average is 8.8 percent. Both have declined about 40 percent in the last 15 years.

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States,” says the report. “Cessation, even in older smokers, can have profound benefits on current health status as well as improve long-term outcomes.”

Kentucky was fifth from the bottom in dental visits by seniors, but the good news is that the share of seniors having such visits rose to 57 percent from 53 percent last year.

“Poor oral health is associated with such chronic diseases as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and can have a large impact on quality of life resulting in pain and affecting the ability to chew or speak,” says the report.

Kentucky improved its senior obesity ranking, another negative measurement, to 24th from 41st. About two out of every seven Kentucky seniors are obese, or 27.5 percent, the same as the national average. Last year the rate was 29.6 percent.

“Obese seniors experience more hospitalizations, emergency department visits, and use of outpatient health services than non-obese seniors, leading to higher health care costs,” says the report. “Physical activity, healthy diet, supportive communities and social networks, and an environment that encourages exercise all play a role in reducing obesity in older adults.”

The report says that between 1999 and 2014, Kentucky’s middle-aged population (50-64) saw a 34 percent increase in in obesity and a 68 percent increase in diabetes. These findings were similar across the nation.

The report says Kentucky’s senior population is expected to increase 44 percent by 2030. “Over the next 15 years, the health of this population will be challenged by large numbers of new people becoming seniors and the additional health challenges, such as diabetes, that this groups brings with them,” it says.”These higher rates of diabetes and obesity are expected to put significant strains on the Medicare program and the overall health-care system.”

The report, sponsored by the United Health Foundation, is a call to action for states, offering specific benchmarks that can be changed to improve health.

Louisiana again ranked last for overall senior health, followed by Oklahoma. Kentucky, West Virginia, Arkansas and Mississippi had similar scores. The top six states for overall senior health are Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Hawaii and Utah. Click here for the full report. (Click on chart for another version that may be clearer)

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