America’s Health Rankings® Senior Report: A Call to Action for Individuals and Their Communities offers a comprehensive analysis of senior population health on a national and state-by-state basis across 35 measures of health. The report is meant to promote discussion around the health of older Americans while driving communities, governments, stakeholders, and individuals to take action to improve senior health.

1. Introduction and Purpose

Introduction

In 2010, the median age in the US increased to 37.2 years, a new high[1] that shows how the nation is aging. Our aging population became more discussed in 2011 when the first of 77 million baby boomers turned 65[2] and a remarkable demographic/societal shift in the US population commenced. It marked the start of a surge, a surge that will continue steadily until both the increase in the number of older adults and their percent of the total population flatten by 2050.[3]
Today, 1 in 7 Americans are aged 65 or older. By 2050, this age group is projected to equal 83.7 million, almost double the estimated population of 43.1 million in 2012.[4] This seniors surge and the increasing rates of obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases threaten to swamp our health care system at state and national levels. What’s more, the pressure that this aging-of-America shift places on the nation is not evenly distributed among the states. [See Aging Nation].
Seniors are the largest consumers of health care because aging carries with it the need for more frequent care.[5] Adults aged 65 and older spend nearly twice as much on health care yearly as those aged 45 to 64; they spend 3 to 5 times more than all adults younger than 65.[6] The health needs of older adults are not only more costly but are also vastly different than the health needs of the younger population. Nearly 80% of seniors have already been diagnosed with at least 1 chronic condition, and half have been diagnosed with at least 2.[7] The widespread prevalence of chronic disease among older adults leads to increased visits to health professionals, more medications prescribed, and a decline in overall well-being and quality of life.
The projected growth of the senior population will pose challenges to policymakers, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security—not to mention the effect it will have on families, businesses, and health care providers. As seniors age, challenges such as limited mobility, social isolation, and the need for long-term care become increasingly common. These issues extend far beyond the health care system, requiring families and communities to offer support, accommodate limited-mobility residents, and provide long-term care.

Purpose

Communities, governments, individuals, and organizations may use this report to assess the status of senior health and build awareness of the breadth of issues facing older adults—and, by extension, communities. They also can use the report to learn where and how to take action to improve the health of current and future seniors. In particular, the report is intended to promote widespread awareness of where states stand on important public health measures and to drive action toward activities proven to improve population health.

Objectives

There are 5 objectives of America’s Health Rankings Senior Report:
  1. Be a catalyst for comprehensive, balanced, and data-driven discussions of senior health in this country.
  2. Provide a multi-dimensional, comprehensive, and conveniently accessible summary of the overall health of the population, aged 65 years and older, in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The summary includes how states match up against each other and the nation as a whole.
  3. Focus attention on the measures that have the most potential to improve senior health—and then drive change in a positive direction.
  4. Using the 2013 edition as a baseline, produce regular updates so the progress and challenges of senior health can be gauged over time.
  5. Stimulate action by the general public, health professionals, and policymakers.

Process

To develop America’s Health Rankings Senior Report, a panel of experts in senior health was charged with 1) identifying areas of health and well-being most pertinent to the older adult population and 2) creating a model for assessing population health at a state level. Before releasing each annual edition, the panel re-convenes to review the model and measures. For details on this process, see Methodology.

Audience

America’s Health Rankings Senior Report consolidates public health statistics and senior health information into an easily digestible format for:
  1. The general public so that individuals can understand the components of overall population health for those aged 65 and older, compare their state with others, and learn what they can do to improve health.
  2. Health professionals so that they can effect positive change. These are public health professionals and professionals in the delivery system for senior health. (“Delivery system” is intended in the broadest sense, as in a community-mobility service, an in-home nutrition service, or a health care clinic.)
  3. Policymakers to use the report as a reference for sharing successes and challenges related to improving senior health and for providing best practices that can be leveraged across all states.
  4. The media as they come to understand the complex issues underlying senior health and as they search for sources and resources, particularly those focused on disseminating best practices and solutions.
[1] US Census Bureau. State and county quickfacts. http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/00000.html. Updated March 27, 2014. Accessed March 31, 2014. [2] Colby, Sandra L. and Jennifer M. Ortman. The Baby Boom Cohort in the United States: 2012 to 2060. Current Population Reports, P25-1141. U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC. 2014. [3] Ortman, Jennifer M., Victoria A. Velkoff, and Howard Hogan. An Aging Nation: The Older Population in the United States, Current Population Reports, P25-1140. U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC. 2014. [4] Ortman, Jennifer M., Victoria A. Velkoff, and Howard Hogan. An Aging Nation: The Older Population in the United States, Current Population Reports, P25-1140. U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC. 2014. [5] Alemayehu B, Warner KE. The lifetime distribution of health care costs. Health Services Research. 2004; 39(3): 627-642 [6] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Public health and aging: Trends in aging—United States and worldwide. MMWR. 2003;52(06):101-106. [7] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention & Merck Company Foundation. The State of Aging and Health in America 2007. Whiteshall Station, NJ: The Merck Company Foundation; 2007.