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Senior Health in KY: Report Uncovers Rural-Urban Divide

Older Kentuckians who live in urban areas are more likely to be physically active than their rural counterparts. (Pedro Alonso/Flickr)
Older Kentuckians who live in urban areas are more likely to be physically active than their rural counterparts. (Pedro Alonso/Flickr)
May 23, 2018

FRANKFORT, Ky. - New data reveals a rural/urban divide when it comes to the health of older Kentuckians.

The United Health Foundation's 2018 Senior Health Report examines 34 health indicators and ranks Kentucky 48th among states, up one notch from last year's rankings. A key finding of the report, said Rhonda Randall, a doctor of osteopathic medicine who serves as a senior adviser to the foundation and chief medical officer and executive vice president of UnitedHealthcare Retiree Solutions, is that among those aged 65 and older, rural residents are not as healthy as those who live in urban settings.

"Seniors who live in rural areas are less physically active, they are less likely to receive their health screenings or get a flu shot and they are less likely to report their own health as very good or excellent," she said, "and, at the same time, they are at a higher risk of having a fall."

Kentucky scored well in the areas of prescription-drug coverage and diabetes management, and also is highlighted for its low prevalence of excessive drinking and low percentage of low-care nursing-home residents. However, the report shows the state is challenged by a low percentage of able-bodied seniors, and a high preventable hospitalization rate.

Smoking is another area of concern, Randall said, since more than 12 percent of seniors in Kentucky continue to smoke. Besides the significant risks of cancer, heart disease and high blood pressure, she said, it also impacts financial health.

"Seniors are often on a fixed income," she said, "so when we're spending dollars on something that harms our health, it takes away the dollars that we could be spending on things like healthy food, utilities, medical bills."

Much as in the rest of the country, Kentucky also is experiencing a geriatrician shortfall and ranks 40th among states in the report. Randall contended that the state needs to find ways to attract training physicians to the field of geriatrics and then retain them in Kentucky.

"The measure here looks at geriatricians," she said, "but the certainly entire geriatric workforce is important: geriatric nurse practitioners, nurses, nurses' aides, pharmacists that have specialty training in the care of seniors, for example."

Kentucky also ranked poorly in the areas of social-isolation risk factors among seniors and frequent mental distress, which rose 15 percent.

The report is online at americashealthrankings.org.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - KY