While there were no changes from last year’s ranking of 44th in the nation, Tennessee ranked 50th for its 13.2 percent smoking rate among seniors.
“Our smoking rate is a real challenge for our state,” said Kate Beatty, assistant professor in the East Tennessee State University College of Public Health and co-director of the Center for Rural and Appalachian Health. “It’s something we’ve focused on, but we haven’t seen the improvements that are needed.”
The report released last week provided more insight into the health of rural versus suburban and urban living seniors. The report highlighted some of the state’s health concerns related to social isolation among seniors.
Lack of services among some seniors in some of the state’s poorest rural areas of East and West Tennessee is also a major contributing factor to poor health in general, according to Beatty.
“If you look at the Tennessee-specific data, you’ll see that those two areas have the highest rates of poverty and lower health outcomes when compared to the rest of the state,” Beatty said.
Among the biggest concerns that stem from health care access and social isolation is the notable increase in suicide rates, according to experts.
Since 2014, suicide rates among seniors in Tennessee have increased 18 percent from 16.5 to 19.4 deaths per 100,000 adults age 65 and older, ranking Tennessee 35th. Nationally, the suicide rate among seniors has increased 12 percent from 14.8 to 16.6 deaths per 100,000 adults age 65 and older.
“When you look at the data across the nation, the suicide rates among the older population is rising, but it is at a higher rate here in Tennessee. I would expect if we were able to dissect the data more, those rates would be even higher in this area and rural areas across the state,” Beatty said.
Dr. Ronald Hamdy, an ETSU professor of medicine, said all of this plays into a “vicious cycle” contributing to the state’s high hip fracture hospitalization rate, which ranked Tennessee 48th in the nation.
Many fractures, according to Hamdy, are the result of undiagnosed and untreated osteoporosis and falls.
Weaker bones could be caused by some of the same things tied to suicidal depression, such as malnutrition and less time outside, which means less sunshine and less vitamin D.
“Two main reasons for the falls is the malnutrition that results from social isolation giving rise to reduced nutrition. On top of this, you have diabetes increasing risk of falls and hip fractures as a result,” he said. “In rural areas, the age is getting older and older, and these people do not have any support at all.”
The report did, however, point to some good news for Tennessean seniors’ health.
Tennessee once again had high rankings in low prevalence of excessive drinking, where Tennessee ranked sixth, and diabetes management, where Tennessee ranked seventh. Preventable hospitalizations also decreased 29 percent.
But Hamdy said drinking has also been on the rise, which is a cause for some concern.
“Over the years, it has increased 2.9 to 4.4 percent,” Hamdy said. “Nationwide, we’re doing well, but not as well as it appears to be.”
To take a look at the report, visit www.americashealthrankings.org.