New Report on Senior Health Shows Rural Health Disparities Persist, Suicide Rates Are Up

  • Report quantifies poorer health outcomes among seniors in rural areas
  • Suicide rates are up 12 percent among seniors nationally since the 2014 edition
  • Social isolation is associated with poor health status and higher mortality, research shows
  • Utah is healthiest state for seniors; Louisiana has greatest opportunity for improvement
Senior Health Report on Rural Health
MINNETONKA, Minn. — 

A new report benchmarking the health of seniors in America finds poorer health outcomes for rural senior citizens compared with their urban and suburban peers and increased national suicide rates. An analysis within the report also highlights the risk of social isolation and its association with poor health for seniors.

The 2018 United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings® Senior Report provides the latest check-up on the health and well-being of the nation’s seniors. Using 34 measures of senior health, the report highlights successes and challenges this population faces on a national and state-by-state basis.

Key findings across states show that rural seniors are:

  • more likely to be physically inactive (34.3 percent compared to 30.4 percent in suburban and 30.1 percent in urban areas); and
  • more likely to report a fall (32.4 percent compared to 28.5 percent in suburban areas and 29.5 percent in urban areas); and
  • 7 percent less likely to report receiving a flu vaccination than urban seniors (57.2 percent vs. 61.4 percent, respectively); and
  • less likely to receive health screenings compared with both suburban and urban seniors (66.4 percent vs. 74.3 percent and 75.3 percent, respectively).

Another key finding of the report is the national suicide rate among seniors has increased 12 percent since the 2014 edition of the Senior Report. Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah have seen the largest increases. There is variability among states, with the rate 3.9 times higher in Nevada than in Massachusetts (32.3 deaths per 100,000 vs. 8.3 deaths per 100,000).

The report also features a new analysis that measures and identifies locations where seniors are most at risk for social isolation. It builds on the AARP Foundation’s Isolation Framework Project and supporting literature. Social isolation risk among seniors is highest in Mississippi and Louisiana, and is lowest in Utah and New Hampshire. Contributing factors include divorce, separation and widowhood, never having married, poverty, disability, difficulty living independently, and living alone.

While the Senior Report highlights many pressing challenges, it also reveals several national improvements. Key findings include:

  • food insecurity decreased 7 percent in the past year;
  • oral health among seniors improved, with dental visits among seniors significantly increasing and teeth extractions declining since 2016; and 
  • the number of home health care workers increased 20 percent since 2013 (per 1,000 adults age 75 and older).

Each year, America’s Health Rankings determines the healthiest states for seniors:

  • Utah (No. 1), followed by Hawaii (No. 2), New Hampshire (No. 3), Minnesota (No. 4) and Colorado (No. 5). All these states ranked in the top five in 2017.
  • Louisiana has the most challenges at No. 50, followed by Mississippi (No. 49), Kentucky (No. 48), Arkansas (No. 47) and Oklahoma (No. 46).

“It is our goal with this report to help seniors, family caregivers and advocates better understand the specific health concerns in their own communities so we can all work together to address them,” said Rhonda Randall, D.O., senior adviser to the United Health Foundation and chief medical officer and executive vice president, UnitedHealthcare Retiree Solutions. “By examining the differences in health between seniors living in rural areas and those living in urban and suburban areas, for example, we believe we can empower communities to help seniors access the resources and services they need to live happier, healthier lives.”

About America’s Health Rankings

America's Health Rankings Senior Report, in its sixth annual edition, offers a comprehensive analysis of senior population health on a national and state-by-state basis across 34 measures of senior health. In commissioning the report, the United Health Foundation seeks to promote discussion around the health of older Americans while driving communities, governments, stakeholders and individuals to take action to improve senior health. For more information, visit www.AmericasHealthRankings.org.

About United Health Foundation

Through collaboration with community partners, grants and outreach efforts, the United Health Foundation works to improve our health system, build a diverse and dynamic health workforce and enhance the well-being of local communities. The United Health Foundation was established by UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) in 1999 as a not-for-profit, private foundation dedicated to improving health and health care. To date, the United Health Foundation has committed nearly $358 million to programs and communities around the world. We invite you to learn more at www.unitedhealthgroup.com/SocialResponsibility.

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New Report on Senior Health Shows Rural Health Disparities Persist, Suicide Rates Are Up