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Kentucky lags in quality of life for seniors

EDITORIAL

The Advocate-Messenger

Danville is known as a great place to retire. There’s a low cost of living, above-average availability for health care, lots of businesses and services available locally and easy access to a major metropolitan area.

But Kentucky as a whole doesn’t look so great for seniors in the newest America’s Health Rankings Report for seniors. The Bluegrass State is ranked second-last in the nation for senior health, ahead of only Mississippi.

We are second-last in behavioral factors such as percentage of seniors who smoke, physical inactivity, few dental visits, obesity and arthritis management.

We are fourth-last for our community and environment, which includes things like nursing home quality, poverty rate, volunteerism (Kentucky is 50th here) and food insecurity.

And we are seventh-last in clinical care, which looks at things like dedicated health care providers, home health care workers, hospital deaths and readmissions, and preventable hospitalizations (Kentucky is 50th here again).

In the area of policy, health rankings scored Kentucky higher at 32nd in the nation. In fact, we were among the top 10 states for having a low percentage of seniors in low-care nursing homes and top 10 again for having a high percentage of seniors with prescription drug coverage.

Other silver linings for the state include a very low rate of excessive drinking among seniors, a high percentage of diabetic seniors who are appropriately managing the disease and the 22nd-best rate of seniors who get recommended health screenings.

America’s Health Rankings for seniors has been put out annually by the United Health Foundation since 2013, and Kentucky has never been out of the bottom 10 states. It’s ranking has generally trended down, though there’s never been much room to fall. Last year, Kentucky was 48th.

Clearly, the state has a lot of work to do to make things better for its older residents, especially since the senior population will continue to swell for many years to come, as the Baby Boomer Generation continues to age.

The takeaway from the report shouldn’t be just a desire to score better and get a better grade next time; it should be a realization that we’re not doing enough for senior citizens and there are real people whose lives are negatively affected by that fact.

Here are some real outcomes: Fewer than two-thirds of Kentuckians 65 or older are considered able-bodied. We have more than 67 percent more early deaths than in the state with the fewest. One out of every 10 seniors has “frequent mental distress.”

Danville-Boyle is an oasis in the center of the state for seniors. If other communities around the state try to copy the good things we have going on here, we might see some of those outcomes improve.