As a whole, Kentucky seniors are the third most unhealthy in the nation, ranking better than only Louisiana and Mississippi

By Sarah Ladd

Kentucky Lantern

New data shows Kentucky among the worst states for key health points among senior citizens, including tooth extractions, food insecurity, insufficient sleep and more.

The statistics, published in the America’s Health Rankings Senior Report in May, show Kentucky seniors have the most tooth extractions.

As a whole, Kentucky seniors rank second for insufficient sleep, exercise and cognitive difficulties; third for food insecurity, and sixth for obesity.

As a whole, Kentucky seniors are the third most unhealthy, healthier only than their counterparts in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Dr. Michael Stockman, a geriatric physician based in Minnesota, said there is a “bright side” of the report: Older Kentuckians, generally, don’t drink too much or have severe housing insecurities, and they consume sufficient fruits and vegetables.

For older Kentuckians not to drink excessively “is great because excessive drinking can lead to things like liver disease, diabetes,” said Stockman, who works for UnitedHealthcare. “It can also interfere with the medications that people are taking as well.”

The United Health Foundation released the report, which examines the health of older adults with 52 measures including social and economic status, physical environment, clinical care, behaviors and more. The rankings are based on data available up to March 8.

Kentucky had higher rates of physical inactivity than the national average, the report showed, which Stockman said can itself lead to poor health.

Nationally, 31% of seniors 65 and older are physically inactive, while the number jumps to 37% in Kentucky.

“It’s important to do those simple daily things like walking 30 to 45 minutes a day to really make a positive impact on overall health and well being,” Stockman explained.

Exercises like walking, stretching, yoga and tai chi can all help strengthen the body and prevent falls, which can lead to fractures, he said.

Social isolation

Kentucky seniors are at high risk of social isolation, the report says, a fact exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. The report ranks Kentucky ranks fifth in social isolation among older adults.

“The pandemic did really create a social isolation amongst all of us. I think seniors were disproportionately affected and it … worsened during that pandemic,” Stockman said. “Being socially isolated puts people in a very vulnerable situation, particularly as they’re going through stressful life events common with aging, such as losing maybe a close friend or a family member, or as they move into retirement. Being socially isolated can lead to, really, a decline in a person’s cognitive functioning. It can increase the risk of depression and decrease the overall quality of life of older adults.”

The bright side to that point, though, is that there are more households now with access to high-speed internet than in 2019. The internet can help seniors gain access to telehealth appointments, stay in contact with family and friends and participate in social activities.

Kentucky seniors seem to be closing the gap in high-speed internet. From 2019 to 2021, 9 percent more of them used broadband, while the national increase was 7 percent.
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