By ANDY MILLER
Special to the NTH
Georgia improved two spots, moving up to No. 41 among states in United Health Foundation’s report card on seniors’ health.
States in the Southeast continue to languish in the bottom quartile of the rankings, released last week. Mississippi was ranked 50th among the states. It was topped by Tennessee (No. 43), Alabama (No. 44), Arkansas (No. 45), Louisiana (No. 48), and Kentucky (No. 49).
The 2019 rankings indicate that poverty among Georgia adults 65 and older decreased from 11.2 percent to 10.1 percent over the past six years, and that over the same period, seniors with “high health status,’’ increased from 32.9 percent to 38.2 percent.
The report also notes that Georgia’s strengths include a high rate of hospice care utilization.
But the report shows that excessive drinking and physical inactivity increased over the past two years among Georgia seniors.
“We really want this report to shine some light on data, so states and communities have a call to action,’’ Dr. Rhonda Randall, chief medical officer of UnitedHealthcare National Markets, told Georgia Health news.
The report rates Hawaii as the healthiest state for seniors, followed by Utah (No. 2), Connecticut (No. 3), Minnesota (No. 4) and Colorado (No. 5).
Randall noted that some states have shown improvement over the seven years of rankings on senior health. Rhode Island, for example, has jumped from No. 30 to No. 7. But some states have seen declines, such as Kansas and Nebraska, she said.
In individual categories, the report ranks Georgia 49th in volunteerism, 49th in support for seniors living in poverty, and 47th in home-delivered meals. The Georgia General Assembly, though, passed a budget this year that contained increases in funding for Meals on Wheels.
The U.S. senior population has grown 45 percent since 2000, with more than 50 million people 65 and older living in this country now.
There are an estimated 1.4 million Georgians who are 65 and older. That number is expected to jump significantly in future years. Georgia, now the No. 8 state in overall population, is the sixth-fastest-growing state when it comes to people 65 and older.
“The population of the U.S. is aging quickly,’’ said Dr. Carlos Isales, co-director of the Center for Healthy Aging at Augusta University.
The aging trend will have a large impact on the health care system, he said. There may be a need for a concerted national effort to “increase the health of the population” as more people develop conditions associated with aging, he suggested.
Georgia’s particular challenges include a large rural population that can have less access to primary health care.
Isales said responses to an aging population cannot simply focus on Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, but that there also must be an effort to keep families intact and help seniors remain independent.
“We need to have a comprehensive approach,’’ Isales said, and “start addressing this at a state level.’’
Improving health care requires a large measure of prevention, he said, including efforts such as cutting the rate of people who smoke.
The senior health rankings analyze 34 core measures. They were developed in collaboration with an advisory group of public health leaders and in partnership this year with the Gerontological Advanced Practice Nurses Association.
Among the national findings:
– There are 550,000 more home health care workers than last year – a 21 percent rate increase per 1,000 adults age 75 and older.
– Hospice care for Medicare patients in their final stages of life, which can be provided while they continue to live at home, has increased in all 50 states and has increased 48 percent overall since 2013.
– The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program now serves 5.4 million eligible seniors, a 13 percent increase since 2015.
“Home is where most seniors want to be, so it is great news that home-based services are being made even more available to help support better health,” said Randall. “This is an encouraging trend that may help seniors continue to live independently or remain in their homes longer.”