Older Mainers thriving despite low levels of personal satisfaction, study shows

As noted in the Bangor Daily News on Saturday/Sunday, December 24-25

By Meg Haskell, BDN Staff

A recent state-by-state survey ranks Maine 20th in the nation in the overall well-being of its older residents, up from 33rd in last year’s report. But Maine falls short in some areas, including seniors’ sense of purpose and personal satisfaction in life, the report said.

Developed through a partnership between the Gallup research and polling organization and Healthways, a national healthcare and wellness improvement company, the 2015 State Well-being Rankings for Older Americans is one of six studies included in the annual State of American Well-Being report. It uses self-reported telephone polling data from 2015 and the first quarter of 2016 to measure respondents’ satisfaction in six broad areas.

These areas are: purpose, defined as “liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals;” social, or “having supportive relationships and love in your life;” financial, “managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security;” community, “liking where you live, feeling safe and having pride in your community;” and physical, “Having good health and enough energy to get things done daily.”

Mainers 55 and older ranked high — the the top quintile, nationally — in the Community category, and in the lowest quintile in the Purpose category, indicating a low level of personal satisfaction with daily life. Maine’s Physical, Financial and Social well-being scored in the second, third and fourth quintiles, respectively. Maine’s overall score of 63.8 points reflects an increase of 13 points over last year’s report.

Of the 50 states, Hawaii ranked highest in the overall well-being of its older citizens and West Virginia ranked lowest.

Len Kaye, director of the University of Maine Center on Aging, said the report raises concerns about older Mainers’ social and emotional health.

“Our low scores on the purpose and social dimensions suggest that too many older Mainers may be grappling with a real sense of social and psychological disequilibrium,” Kaye said. Especially in rural areas, older Mainers may be shut off from the stimulation of daily activities and from opportunities for meaningful social and civic exchangement, he said.

“It suggests that the risk of social isolation remains a perplexing and unresolved problem for older adults living in small towns and rural communities,” Kaye said.

The larger report on American well-being across all age groups also shows that Maine ranked poorly — 31st among the states — in having a high incidence of diabetes and obesity.

Repeated efforts to reach a spokesperson at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention for comment on the report from a public health perspective drew no response. But Dr. Dora Anne Mills, vice president for clinical affairs at the University of New England in Biddeford and the former director of the Maine CDC, said that while the report’s methodology may be flawed by an inadequate sample size — about 400 respondents from Maine — and other factors, health rankings like this reflect important realities for all Mainers, including seniors.

“Seniors … want to live in a healthy state, since if more people in our communities are healthy, then [seniors] are more likely to be healthy,” Mills said. Also, it’s important for older Mainers to feel that their children and grandchildren live in a state with “a higher chance of living and living healthy,” she said.

Generally, Americans over 55 seem to be in better shape than their younger counterparts, according to the report authors. They are more satisfied with their standard of living and less worried about money than younger adults. Older Americans are also more likely to have health insurance and access to health care, to eat a healthier diet, to smoke less and to report lower levels of stress and anxiety.

The report can be viewed online at healthways.com/populationhealth.

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