Florida’s seniors are increasingly depressed and drinking more

Although Florida seniors are living longer, they are smoking, drinking and experiencing depression more than the older population of other states, according to a new national health report.

The America’s Health Rankings Senior Report found more than 9% of Florida’s 4.2 million seniors said they drink excessively and more than 10% said they smoke regularly.

Despite these behaviors, Florida’s senior population has some positive health trends, too. A high percentage are managing their diabetes well, tapping community support and undergoing regular health screenings.

These overall trends led to Florida’s rank as the 29th healthiest state for seniors in United Health Foundation’s 2019 America’s Health Rankings—a slight jump from 30 last year. Hawaii took the top spot as the healthiest state for seniors, noted for its low obesity rate and low death rate of 65- to 74-year-olds.

The annual assessment by United Health Foundation measures 34 indicators of physical, mental and social well-being to analyze the health of seniors on a national and state-by-state basis.

Strengths in senior care

“Florida has some areas that need improvement, but it also has some positive trends,” said Dr. Rhonda Randall, executive vice president and chief medical officer of United Healthcare National Markets. “It is the best of all states for diabetes management and the second best for its low percentage of falls.”

Florida’s improved ranking comes from its strengths:

  • a 32% decrease in food insecurity. “Studies indicate food insecurity is associated with increases in heart attack, diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma and depression,” the report says
  • a high percentage of four- and five-star nursing home beds
  • a low prevalence of obesity

Healthcare weaknesses

When it comes to areas for improvement in Florida, the report found:

  • high rates of use of Intensive Care Units
  • about a third of seniors are physically inactive
  • low percentage of volunteerism

“This is a big concern because volunteerism gives seniors a purpose and can contribute to overall health,” said Randall, who is also an adviser to America’s Health Rankings.

In a crucial area for seniors, Florida saw 550,000 more home health care workers than last year, an encouraging upward trend that may help seniors continue to live independently or remain in their homes longer, Randall said. However, Florida still falls short of the number of home health workers needed for the number of seniors in the population. With 32.2 aides per 1,000 adults aged 75 and older, Florida ranked nearly at the bottom of all states (49th).

Cost of care

Nationally, 5.2% of seniors—or about 2.7 million adults—report not seeing a doctor in the past year due to the cost of care. In Florida, the same may be true. In the past two years, the percentage of adults aged 65 and older with a dedicated health care provider dropped 3% from 95.5% to 92.6 percent.

Florida excels in spending on its seniors; In the past three years, community support increased from $799 to $1,154 per adult aged 60 and older in poverty. This includes services such as adult day care, delivered meals, transportation and other assistance.

Mental health concerns

Older adults are at an increased risk for experiencing depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “They do not seek help because they don’t understand that they could feel better with appropriate treatment,” according to the CDC.

In the past year, depression among Florida seniors increased 36% to 16% of 65-and-older adults, or about 672,000 people.

Marthe Lawrence, executive director of Artis Senior Living in Davie, said she sees a lot of depression in South Florida seniors. “A lot of times as seniors are aging they lose a sense of purpose and feel they are not contributing when in the past they were the backbone of the country. Family members will think their loved one has dementia when really he or she is just depressed.”

Mental health overall continues to be a national concern for the senior population. Nearly 8% of seniors both nationally and in Florida reported frequent mental distress, with female seniors reporting a higher prevalence of frequent mental distress (8.7 percent) compared with male seniors (6.8 percent).

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