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Health Rankings Report Shows Progress for Seniors

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). California ranks 29th.

Vermont's strengths as the healthiest state for seniors include low intensive care unit use and ready availability of home-delivered meals. The top-ranked state also has high Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program 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 of 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."

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. Key findings include:

• Preventable hospitalizations dropped 8.6%, from 64.9% of discharges for Medicare beneficiaries last year to 59.3% of discharges in 2015. The decrease marks an 11% 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% to 50.6% of decedents aged 65 and older, while hospital deaths decreased from 25% to 22.8% of decedents. Hospice care rose 38% since the report's inception in 2013.

• The number of home health care workers increased 9.3% 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% of seniors in 2014 to 62.8% 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% increase in self-reported high health status to 41.8% this year, contributing to a 9% 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."

Meanwhile Physical - Inactivity Worsens

After showing promising improvements in last year's edition, physical inactivity rates increased in 2015; one-third of seniors (33.1%) did not engage in any physical activity or exercise outside of work, marking a 15.3% increase from the previous year (28.7%).

Seniors are exhibiting other unhealthy behaviors and chronic conditions – some preventable – that could compromise their wellbeing and quality of life:

• 37.6% of seniors have four or more chronic conditions;

• 26.7% of seniors are obese;

• 8.7% of seniors smoke; and

• 16.1% 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% the past two years.

To see the report, visit:


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