The State of Well-Being for Older Americans

Posted on July 16, 2015



Because Life in the Boomer Lane is a world-famous blogger (“world” being defined as two of the three children of her loins and a handful of highly discriminating followers), she is occasionally approached by others who give her unique opportunities that she would otherwise not have. These never involve money or offers of trips to speak in exotic places, but they have value, nonetheless.

One recent opportunity was afforded by Virginia Anderson, of Allison + Partners, who sent LBL the new Gallup/Healthways report “State of American Well-Being.”  The report is timely, as this week is the White House Conference on Aging, and the anniversaries of Medicare, Medicaid, the Older Americans Act, and Social Security.

The report was based on well over 173,000 interviews conducted in 2014, across all 50 states. In the report, 82,000 folks under age 55 and 91,000 over age 55 were surveyed on 10 critical indices, covering the gamut of health and well being.  States were then ranked according to their scores in purpose/social/financial/community/physical.

The 10 categories were: fresh produce consumption, exercise (3-7 days in the last week), obesity, depression, smoking,learn to do something new every day, have enough money to do everything I want to do, friends and family give you positive energy,health insurance coverage, have a personal doctor.

After LBL digested the report, she was able to interview (“interview” being defined as LBL asking for clarification of  certain parts of the report without revealing her stupidity) to Joy Powell, President Senior Solutions Division at Healthways and Dan Witter, Research Director Gallup Healthways Well Being Index. The following is a summery of the report:

On the whole, older adults have higher well-being than their younger counterparts.  Well being improves with age. Individuals over age 75 have higher well-being than those 65-74.

Older adults have better access to healthcare and a higher percentage have personal doctors.

On the downside, depression is the category in which those age 55-64 score higher than any other age group. As both Witter and Powell explained, a large part of this is due to people in that group being primary care givers for elderly parents. Young people, while certainly not placed in the same situation very often, have, when they are faced with care giving, even higher rates of depression.

Obesity peaks at 55-64, then goes steadily down.

LBL asked Witters what the areas were in which those over age 55 didn’t do better than other age groups. They were:

1. learning something new every day (although those living in college towns ranked high on this)

2. social well being

3. oral health Simply put, many older Americans don’t see the dentist as often as they should. That got LBL going, as she is wont to go on regular tirades about how as we age, dental problems increase, while good dental insurance is almost non-existent. Friends of hers have spent many thousands of dollars out-of-pocket for issues that are age-related. LBL used to fear an assault to her pain center when she went to the dentist.  Now she fears an assault to her VISA card.

(Note: “Community” is a self-described category. It includes pride in one’s community, how safe and secure one feels in the community, volunteerism, and satisfaction with one’s community)

So, how did the states pan out?  Hawaii is the state with the highest well-being for older adults (Community and Physical being #1 and Purpose being #2), followed by Montana, South Dakota, Alaska and Iowa. The bottom five states are Indiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and West Virginia (Social and Physical being #50).

You can read the entire report on the Healthways site. And, if you know of a great dental policy, let LBL know.