Minnesota just might be the best place to get old in America – if you’re interested mainly in quality health care and don’t mind cold winter weather.
A state-by-state ranking of senior health gives Minnesota top honors for a range of reasons – everything from the rate of annual dental visits to the quality of nursing home beds and low rate of hip fractures.
If a healthy, active lifestyle is your thing, consider Provo, Utah. It edged out other U.S. cities in a study of places for successful aging for its low rates of smoking, binge drinking, and diabetes. More than 5 percent of Provo residents walk to work, the economy is growing, and crime rates are low.
Rankings of the best places to retire are a dime a dozen. Many are geared to just a couple of factors, such as sunshine, low tax rates, or the number of golf courses per capita. They don’t tell you much about what would suit you personally.
But any number of studies, online tools and other resources offer deeper insight. These studies look at quality-of-life issues, such as affordability, health care, public safety, public transportation, culture, and even educational opportunities. They can be useful for older Americans to help evaluate where they live now as well as any relocation decisions. And they can stimulate a more thoughtful approach to the key question: Is the place where I live now – or where I might want to move – a good place to age?
The Milken Institute’s study ranks the best cities for successful aging. The institute is a nonpartisan think tank focused on public health, medical research, economics, and financial markets. The Best Cities for Successful Aging study breaks out results three ways – one for the aging population overall, another for people ages 65-79, and the last for those over 80.
The Milken ranking – which gave the overall nod to Provo – uses six criteria:
♦ Safety, affordability, and comfort. This measure uses statistics on cost of living, employment growth, jobless rates, income distribution, crime rates, alcoholism, and weather.
♦ Health and happiness. Key factors include the number of health professionals, hospital beds, long-term hospitals, geriatric facilities, hospital quality, and affiliation with medical schools.
♦ Financial security. This measure includes tax burden, small-business growth, poverty levels, and employment rates for people over age 65.
♦ Living arrangements. Includes statistics on the cost of homeownership and rental housing, nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, and more.
♦ Mobility and access. Milken studied commute times, fares, public transit, and the number of grocery stores and other key retailers.
♦ Respect and engagement. This included statistics on volunteerism, employment opportunities, and factors relating to encore careers. Milken also reviewed access to fitness and recreational facilities, training and education, senior enrichment programs, museums, cultural and religious institutions, libraries, and YMCAs.
Including job opportunities may seem surprising for a study of retirement locations. It reflects the growing recognition that Americans will be working longer, sometimes because of economic need, but often out of desire to stay engaged.
Paul Irving, Milken’s president, says the institute also hopes the ranking will stimulate competition between cities to improve their capacity to accommodate older residents and to offer them opportunities. “When you do that, you actually are improving cities for everyone,” he says. “Cities that enable older people to maximize their potential will have happier, more productive, better-educated, and integrated younger populations, too.
For a deeper dive into health, America’s Health Rankings Senior Report is a good place to start. Produced by the United Health Foundation, it’s a ranking of states using 34 measurements from 12 data sources, including government agencies and research organizations.
Minnesota took top honors for the second year in a row in the latest ranking; Mississippi ranked last. The study breaks out results by “determinants” – factors that affect future health – and outcomes. Minnesota ranked first for its combined determinants and second for outcomes. Mississippi was dead last for senior poverty, how people rank their own health, and premature deaths.
What’s so great about Minnesota? The state ranked high for everything from the rate of annual dental visits (dental care is important for senior health), volunteerism (keeps people active and mentally alert), a high percentage of quality nursing home beds, and a low percentage of food insecurity. Prescription drug coverage also is high, and the state ranked in the top five for a low rate of hospitalizations for hip fractures and a high percentage of able-bodied seniors.
LONG-TERM CARE COST
The cost of long-term care continues to rise much faster than overall inflation. The median cost of a private nursing home room rose at a 4.19 percent compound annual rate during the past five years, and assisted-living facility prices increased at a 4.29 percent pace (to $42,000), according to an annual survey of private-payor long-term care providers by Genworth Financial and its Carescout subsidiary.
But the cost of care varies dramatically by location. For example, the national median cost of a private nursing home this year is $87,600 – but it’s $134,320 in Massachusetts, $91,980 in Colorado, and $58,765 in Louisiana. The differences are driven mainly by demand and supply of labor, the cost of living and level of affluence in a particular region, and therefore the ability to pay for services.