Study shows cross-state disparities in high blood pressure levels and healthy aging.

More than three quarters of older adults in Massachusetts grapple with high blood pressure, and nearly 1 in 3 has been diagnosed with depression, according to a report and an interactive website that provides a novel, in-depth look at about 100 health measures of each community.

Some regions of the state appear to be strongholds for healthy aging, with relatively few seniors plagued by chronic health problems such as hypertension. Other areas are rife with challenges, according to the report by Tufts Health Plan Foundation and the Massachusetts Health Policy Forum at Brandeis University. The report will be presented Friday to government and business leaders, policymakers, and community advocates at a health conference in Newton.

Tufts Health Plan CEO, James Roosevelt Jr., explained that the initiative aims to activate providers, consumers, communities, policy makers, and legislators to form new partnerships and coalitions that will promote positive changes to enhance the health, social engagement, and independence of older adults. The focus is on actionable areas – reduction of multiple chronic diseases, such as hypertension, a reduction of depression and falls, and increasing opportunities for older adults to get life-saving screenings and immunizations. The initiative also wants to encourage community and environmental changes that will allow people to practice healthy behaviors.

The researchers measured a wide array of factors, including smoking and obesity rates, alcohol consumption, levels of physical activity, and access to grocery stores, parks, and entertainment. They also examined crime rates, percentages of residents who received regular dental and physical exams and cancer screenings, and the percentages who reported any one of a list of illnesses from high blood pressure, to Alzheimer’s disease and prostate cancer.

They found that a number of small towns in Central and Western Massachusetts had a disproportionate share of seniors reporting no chronic conditions, while several large cities in the southeastern part of the state have unusually high numbers of older residents with multiple health problems.

The U.S. state average prevalence rate for ever having been diagnosed with hypertension is 78 percent for persons age 65 or older. Examples of communities with greater than state average rates are located across the state, including Savoy (83 percent) in the Western region, Yarmouth (82 percent) on Cape Cod in the Southeast region, Haverhill (81 percent) in the Northeast region and Worcester (81 percent) in the Central region. Towns with the lowest prevalence rates for hypertension were often in smaller towns in western Massachusetts.

With the percentage of the population over 65 expected to significantly increase in Massachusetts and across the country — from 14 percent of the state’s residents in 2010 to 21 percent by 2030, according to a recent UMass report — foundation leaders hope the new community profiles will spur conversation and fresh ideas to promote healthy aging.

 

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