The number of senior citizens living in the United States is expected to double in the next 25 years. The aging baby boom generation and improved medical technology will lead to significant increased demand for health care, palliative care, and other industries specifically tailored to the aging population.
Some states are likely better prepared than others for the growing elderly population. In these states, senior citizens tend to live much longer, healthier, more enjoyable lives than in other states. Based on data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the health of retirement age adults in each of the 50 states.
Being more prone to disease and injury, older Americans need to take care of their health even more than younger Americans. For example, regular physical activity is important for the young and old to prevent a variety of health conditions, but it has additional importance for senior citizens because it is crucial in reducing the risk of falls, according to the CDC. Falling is the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for the elderly, and 31.7% of older Americans report falling and injuring themselves each year.
Similarly, obesity is one of the leading risk factors of life-threatening illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, and hypertension across the population as a whole, and these conditions are more common among senior citizens. Eating healthy and exercising are, for this reason, perhaps more important for senior citizens.
> Pct. 65+ w/ disability: 35.8% (9th lowest)
> Pct. 65+ obese: 26.7% (10th highest)
> Flu vaccine in past year, 65+: 68.0% (24th highest)
> Life expectancy: 78.3 years (23rd lowest)
While Pennsylvania’s elderly are healthier than most older Americans by several measures, many could be far healthier. The 26.7% obesity rate among state residents 65 and older is slightly higher than the 24.3% elderly obesity rate nationwide. The typical older resident in the Keystone State is also less likely to be physically active than than the typical American 65 years and older.
As individuals age, the risks and consequences of certain diseases and illnesses increase. For example, the CDC reports that between 80% to 90% of all flu-related deaths occur in people 65 and older. The elderly are also at greater risk of certain cancers.
Since older Americans are more vulnerable in many ways, it is important they receive preventative medical treatments and screenings. If proper precautions are taken, the seasonal flu can be preventable and certain cancers can be caught early enough that treatment is more likely to be successful. Nationwide, 66.9% of retirement age adults have had a flu shot in the past year, and 73.1% have received adequate colon cancer screening. These rates vary dramatically between states.
The CDC defines frequent mental distress as feeling in poor mental health at least 14 days of the last 30. Poor mental health is closely tied to unhealthy behaviors. Though the elderly are less prone to mental distress than younger age groups, poor mental health may take a greater toll on older individuals. According to the CDC, older adults who experience frequent mental distress are less likely to lead physically healthy lives. Nationwide, 6.9% of adults 65 and older experience frequent mental distress. This share varies greatly by state from as few as 3.9% of seniors in Iowa to as many as 10.5% in West Virginia.
In the 25 states with the smallest shares of elderly residents reporting frequent mental distress, senior citizens are more likely to be physically active, more likely to have a healthy diet, less likely to be obese, and less likely to smoke than the typical elderly American.
While life expectancy was not part of our analysis, the conditions that lead to healthier lives for elderly Americans also appear to lead to longer lives. The life expectancies in the 10 least healthy states for retirees is below the national average of 78.5 years. Similarly, the 10 states with the healthiest retirees have above average life expectancy.
In order to determine the states with the healthiest elderly population, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data from the CDC’s report “The State of Aging and Health in America 2013.” The report, based primarily on 2010 data, is the most recent publication on the subject from the CDC. We ranked each state in 17 measures of health behaviors and outcomes among Americans 65 and older and averaged all 17 ranks to determine how healthy are senior citizens in each state. We also considered life expectancy by state as provided by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Life expectancy was not a component of the overall rank calculation.