How They See IT

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THE LEDGER INDEPENDENT | CODY EVANS | MAY 28, 2015

The Independent, Ashland, on the health of the state’s oldest residents:

Another nationwide study has Kentucky ranked near the bottom in a critical quality of life area. In this case, it is caring for the health of its oldest residents.

Only Oklahoma and Arkansas ranked below Kentucky in annual United Health Foundation’s America Health Rankings Senior Report: A Call to Action for Individuals and their Communities.

However despite its low marks when compared to other states, there were some positives in the latest annual report, even for Kentucky. Overall, the report showed positive trends for senior health, particularly in areas of seniors getting the right care in a setting of their choice.

The study also revealed seniors are experiencing lower hospital readmission rates and preventable hospitalization rates compared to last year. Hospice care use, however, has increased, along with the number of home health care workers.

Overall strengths for Kentucky included low prevalence of chronic drinking; low percentage of low-care nursing home residents and high flu vaccination coverage. However, two long-term health problems continue to plague senior citizens: a high prevalence of smoking and poor dental health. Kentucky continues to have among the highest percentage of adults who smoke, but that rate is declining even in the state where tobacco was once king. It is just that the smoking rate is dropping faster in most other states than it is in Kentucky. The adoption of a state ban on public smoking could encourage even more Kentuckians to kick the deadly tobacco habit making for a healthier state.

There is a direct link between the high rate of poverty in Kentucky and the poor dental health of its residents. Since tooth aches are considered painful but not deadly or even life threatening, low income families put their priorities in addressing more serious health problems while dental care takes a back seat. However, dental professionals are quick to point out that dental problems can lead to other health problems. Thus, the money saved by ignoring seemingly minor dental problems can be more than offset by the increased cost of treating health problems caused by poor dental care.

Dr. Julie Daftari, a market medical doctor for UH, said the report is useful for understanding where the state can improve in its medical care for senior citizens.

Among the other positives in the latest report include an 8.6 percent drop in preventable hospitalizations, which is an 11 percent decrease since 2011.

The study also indicated seniors are spending their last days in settings they prefer. Hospice care increased from 47.5 percent to 50.6 percent of decedents age 65 and older, while hospital deaths decreased from 25 percent to 22.8 percent of decedents.

The number of home health care workers increased 9.3 percent from last year, and seniors getting flu vaccines rose from 60.1 percent last year to 62.8 percent.

Despite being ranked so low, health care for senior citizens is improving in Kentucky. It is just that it has to improve at a much, much faster rate just to catch up with what is available in other states. Paying catch up is an old story in Kentucky, and frankly, we’re getting a little tired of it.

Read the article online.