Sep 25 2009

Report: less-healthy seniors and meager medical resources could swamp Nevada health care

Posted at 3:48 pm under Uncategorized

Nevada elders drink and smoke more than seniors nationally. They eat fewer fruits and vegetables. They are twice as prone to suicide. And they live in one of the states most shorthanded in terms of health-care professionals.

Those are among the findings in the latest edition of a state fact book on the health of older adults, Elders Count Nevada, 2009. The 80-page report was prepared and published by the Sanford Center for Aging in collaboration with the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, the state Health Division and the Nevada Aging and Disability Services Division.

Some of the researchers involved in compiling the report gave a summary of its contents this week at the annual meeting of the Nevada Public Health Association, held at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Because of its rapid growth, Nevada is at the leading edge of the so-called “aging tsunami,” the demographic wave carrying 78 million baby boomers into their retirement years. As Nevada’s overall population boomed between 2000 and 2007, the state’s population of people 65 and older grew almost four times faster than the national average.

This is the second edition of Elders Count Nevada, and it tells much the same story as the first (published in 2007): Old or young, many Nevadans don’t practice the healthiest of living habits. And Nevada trails almost every other state in terms of its supply of medical and health-care professionals.

As the report details, only four states (Kansas, Oklahoma, Idaho and Mississippi) have fewer active physicians per capita, and only one (Arizona) has fewer nurses. Nevada ranks last in terms of dentists and medical students per capita, and it has fewer than half the national rate of nursing-home beds per capita.

The report shows that the roughly 300,000 Nevadans 65 and older are similar to seniors in other states in some respects, including life expectancy (about 76 years). However, there are noteworthy differences, including rates of:

Suicide. Nevada’s elder-suicide rate (35.4 per 100,000 population) is more than double the national rate. Isolation in rural parts of the state and the widespread possession of firearms (the most common means of suicide) are believed to be contributors.

Obesity. A smaller share of Nevada elders meet the definition of “obese” than is the case nationally (18 percent vs. 23 percent). But Nevada is above the national average in the less-severe category, “overweight” (43 percent vs. 41 percent), plus the trend is discouraging. In 1995, 13 percent of Nevada adults of all ages were obese. By 2007, the rate had grown to 25 percent.

Smoking. In 2007, 18 percent of Nevadans 65 and older smoked, double the national rate. But things are looking up. Although about one in four Nevada seniors smoked daily in 1996, 10 years later that rate had been halved, to 12 percent. Unfortunately, that’s still one-third higher than the national daily smoking rate for seniors (9 percent).

Heavy drinking. Almost twice as many Nevada seniors drink heavily than is the case nationally (4.9 percent vs. 2.9 percent). Heavy drinking is defined as men who have more than two drinks per day and women who have more than one.

Along with statistics, Elders Count Nevada 2009 offered a set of policy recommendations. These included expanding several relatively low-cost programs for seniors, programs that are already partially funded or operated by state agencies and the Sanford Center for Aging.

One example is the Medication Therapy Management program, which analyzes seniors’ drug and vitamin/supplement regimens to check for potentially dangerous interactions and duplications. Adverse reactions to medications are believed to be the fifth-leading cause of death in the United States. Almost one in three hospitalizations of elders is due to preventable medication-related errors.

The entire Elders Count Nevada 2009 report can be read or downloaded online at http://www.unr.edu/sanford/documents/EldersCountReport09.pdf.

Presenting details of the Elders Count report at the NPHA conference were Dominique Joseph, M.P.H., research assistant and geriatric fellowship coordinator for the Sanford center; Teresa M. Sacks, M.P.H., health research analyst for the Sanford center; and Lawrence J. Weiss, Ph.D., the CEO of the Center for Healthy Aging.

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