California senior health sees improvement

aibarra@mercedsunstar.comMay 28, 2014 

Seniors are taking more steps to improve their health, according to a new report.

The United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings Senior Report ranked California as No. 18 in the nation for senior health. In last year’s report, the state was ranked 24th.

The report, which drew data from 12 government agencies and research organizations to measure and compare the health of seniors 65 or older, revealed that there have been improvements in the quality of nursing home care and end-of-life care.

The report also indicated gains in levels of activity among seniors, showing that they are not only taking better care of themselves, but are also engaging more with their health care providers.

Senior health rankings by county were not available in the report.

However, the trend of increased interest by seniors in their health does seem to also apply to Merced County, according to area health care providers.

Cory Ross, family practice and urgent care office manager at Atwater Medical Group, said she agrees with the report’s results, noting that she has seen an increase in the number of patients over the age of 65 going in for regular checkups and exams.

“Forty percent of our patients are senior citizens, and they definitely seem a lot more concerned with exercise and with making sure they are following their doctor’s instructions,” Ross said. “They’re on top of watching their diet and about seeking preventative care.”

Ross said she believes this is due to seniors learning about and utilizing the resources available to them.

Similarly, Maria Garcia, a licensed vocational nurse at Golden Valley Health Center’s Senior Center, said education has been key for the improvement of senior health care.

“I’ve worked with seniors for 25 years and I have seen how they’ve become more alert and interested about their health,” Garcia said. “I think that’s due in big part to all the free educational services we offer.

“We have a center especially for our seniors, which includes a lab and pharmacy, so that they don’t have to travel anywhere else,” Garcia continued. “We also have a mental health educator who evaluates our seniors’ mental state and will determine whether they might need home care assistance. And most of our seniors seem to appreciate this.”

The report listed Californian’s strengths as having a low prevalence of smoking and a high prescription drug coverage compared with senior residents of other states.

The challenges for the state? According to the report, California still needs to work on reducing the high percentage of hospital deaths as well as increasing the availability of home health care workers and cutting the high prevalence of food insecurity.

While the overall ranking is indicative of progress, authors of the report see room for further improvement.

According to the data, 990,000 seniors in California are obese and more than 1 million seniors are still physically inactive.

The state ranked Minnesota as the healthiest state for seniors for the second year in a row, followed by Hawaii, New Hampshire and Vermont. Mississippi was named the least healthy state for seniors.

California also ranks in the top 10 for oral health measures, dental visits and teeth extractions, according to the data.

Sun-Star staff writer Ana B. Ibarra can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or aibarra@mercedsunstar.com.

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