New report on seniors meant to be 'launching pad' to 'age-friendly' communities in CT

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A first-of-its-kind report on senior citizens in Connecticut is designed to help communities support healthy aging by addressing nutrition, transportation, housing and more.

“Healthy aging is influenced by where we live, how we work, the health care we get and our experiences in daily living,” said Nora Moreno Cargie, president of the Tufts Health Plan Foundation, which funded the report released Thursday during the virtual annual meeting of the Connecticut Association of Senior Center Personnel.

The report shows health disparities based on race and ethnicity among older adults in Connecticut, as well as broad differences in income levels.

The 13 communities — including Norwalk, Weston, Westport and Wilton — that scored better on various indicators than the state average are considered higher socioeconomic communities.

But the 13 communities — including the Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven areas — that scored lower than state average have lower socioeconomic status, the report found.

“This level of disparity in the state of Connecticut is not a surprise, but to see it in print is pretty concerning,” said Sherry Ostrout, director of government initiatives for Connecticut Community Care. “But it’s also very motivating.”

Ostrout is a lead staff member on the newly formed CT Age Well Collaborative, a group of public, private and philanthropic groups that focus on aging. The group will use the report and other input to create a blueprint for supporting healthy aging over the long term. The collaborative plans to release a plan in early 2022.

The latest report is meant to be a resource for communities to become “age-friendly,” which means allowing people to remain in their homes by offering affordable, accessible, and diverse housing and transportation, as well as public buildings and spaces.

“It’s about so much more than just health,” said June Renzulli, chairwoman of the CT Age Well Collaborative. “It’s all about transportation and walkability and housing and just so many different components.”

This has benefits for the entire community, not just senior citizens.

“We’re all aging,” Cargie said. “It is not just about older people.”

“We know there are people working in transportation, housing security and other sectors who will be important partners in collaborating because, after all at the end of the day, communities that work for older people work better for everyone,” she added.

In addition to funding the report, the Tufts Health Plan Foundation in 2020 provided a three-year, $150,000 grant to Connecticut Community Care for the formation of the collaborative.

Researchers pulled U.S. Census, Medicare and other data sources from various years. Conducting the research was the Gerontology Institute at the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

What’s in the report?

This report provides town-by-town data on how older adults fair on nutrition, mental health, housing, cost of living and other factors.

“I’m really excited to be able to use this report as a launching pad to create positive change here in Connecticut,” said Amy Porter, commissioner of the Department of Aging and Disability Services.

Data show vast differences in wealth between older adults, with 24 percent of households 65 and over with incomes about $100,000, while 7 percent of older people live below the poverty level and 11 percent rely on supplemental nutrition for food.

Most Connecticut residents 65 and over — 77 percent — own their home, but the rate ranges from 37 percent in Hartford to 100 percent in Union.

Connecticut has a higher percentage of older Black and Hispanic adults than New England states. It’s also the seventh-oldest state in the nation.

Older Black people have the highest rates of diabetes, hypertension, obesity, stroke and substance-abuse disorders, while Hispanic older people highest rates of asthma, depression, heart attack and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the report.

To help address these disparities, agencies could provide information and better access to services, such as food stamps and the Medicare Savings Program, Ostrout said.

Renzulli said community leaders should pick key areas to focus on in their towns.

In Bridgeport, half of adults 65 and over have diabetes. That’s the second-worst rate in the state. Bridgeport also has the second-worst rate of strokes at 14.6 percent, the third-worst rates of Alzheimer’s disease at 18.5 percent and the third-worst rate of hypertension at 82.2 percent.

New Haven has the third-worst rate of diabetes, with 46.3 percent of residents 65 and older.

Redding rates the worst for residents 65 and over who have had a hip fracture, with 6 percent reported. Male prostate cancer rates are second-highest in that town at 18.4 percent.

New Canaan’s glaucoma rate is the worst in the state, with 41.9 percent of residents having it. That’s followed by Stamford with 37.3 percent.

Colon cancer rates are highest in Norwalk, with 4.6 percent of older residents having it. Osteoporosis rates are highest in Trumbull with 27.1, followed by Fairfield at 26.6 percent.

Regional look

Researchers have conducted similar reports Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire, but this is the first time this analysis is available for Connecticut.

“There may be pockets where it makes sense to collaborate with your neighbor to your north or to your east,” said Beth Dugan, the principal investigator and a UMass, Boston, professor.

Connecticut has lower rates in New England for tobacco-use disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and mortality, but worst rates for three types of cancer, serious cardiovascular conditions, Alzheimer’s disease and various other health conditions.

Compared to other states, Connecticut has the lowest median days of hospice use per decedent over 65.

“That may mean that older people facing the end-of-life are doing so without getting hospice care that could potentially ease their suffering and provide important support to loved ones,” the report states.

Other states have used the report in various ways, Dugan said. For example, a senior center director in Newton, Mass., added tai chi programs after noticing falls and fractures were high in her community. In Rhode Island, advocates secured additional funding for free bus service for older individuals due to transportation gaps.

Communities like Danbury have been working toward becoming age-friendly communities. The Danbury Age Well Community Council has focused on problems like food insecurity among older adults.

The report showed Danbury’s rates of senior citizens with high cholesterol or are diagnosed with obesity are higher than the rest of the state.

Officials there plan to dive into the report.

“Danbury is small enough, yet big enough, and representative of future cities of the United States nationally,” said Renzulli, who is a council member on Danbury’s group. “What we can figure out here can be easily replicated, hopefully many times over.”