Aging in Southeast Massachusetts: Key Findings

As a whole, the Southeast region faces many challenges in terms of healthy aging. Fall River and New Bedford rank with four other urban cities statewide – Lowell, South Boston, Springfield and Worcester – as two of the communities that score below state averages on the greatest number of healthy aging indicators. New Bedford has a high of 31 out of nearly 100 indicators below the state average.

In Fall River and New Bedford, rates exceed state averages for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, diabetes, stroke, and cardiovascular indicators, among others. In fact, Fall River ranks third in the state for the highest prevalence of diabetes among older adults (45 percent compared to a state average of 32 percent).

In Quincy, older residents have lower rates of arthritis and glaucoma than the state average. However, Quincy exceeds the state average for stroke, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), hypertension, heart attacks, congestive heart failure, colon cancer, long cancer and osteoporosis.

Compared to state averages, older residents of Brockton do better on some indicators of healthy aging, including arthritis, breast and prostate cancer, and osteoporosis. However, older residents of Brockton do worse than state averages on indicators related to health promotion (obesity, shingles vaccine), quality of care (hospital readmissions, hospital stays, nursing home stays, emergency room visits), and chronic disease (depression, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, stroke, COPD, hypertension, congestive heart failure, among others).

The Massachusetts state average for persons age 65 or older having multiple (four or more) chronic conditions is 59 percent. The top four communities in the state with the highest percentage of multiple chronic conditions among older adults are all located in the Southeast region, including Fall River (a high of 70 percent) and New Bedford, Somerset and Taunton (each at 67 percent).

These same communities also rank in the top five in the state for the highest percentage of older adults with hypertension (each over 84 percent compared to a state average of 78 percent). Yet, there is substantial within-regional variation in the Southeast region. For example, the communities of Chilmark, Aquinnah and West Tisbury on Martha’s Vineyard have the third lowest rate in the state for older adults with hypertension (61 percent).

In addition, 23 percent of adults age 60 and older are obese in Massachusetts (BMI of 30 or greater), yet while obesity rates exceed 31 percent in Brockton and New Bedford, Cape Cod and the Islands have the lowest rates of obesity among older residents in the state. The report also shows that older adult residents on Cape Cod and the Islands are the greatest participants in any physical activity (72 percent), while the least likely to participate in physical activity are older adults in Fall River (52 percent).

The communities on Cape Cod are better than average on many other indicators of healthy aging. For example, the older residents on the Cape are more likely to report good, very good or excellent health, have relatively low rates of disability, and higher rates of life satisfaction. However, the rate of glaucoma is higher than the state average in parts of the Cape. Similarly, Wellfleet has one of the highest rates of prostate cancer among older adult men (21 percent compared to a state average of 15 percent).

The town of Truro on the Cape has the second lowest rate in the state of Alzheimer’s and related dementias among older adults (8 percent compared to a state average of 14 percent). In other parts of the Southeast region, Canton, Dedham and Wrentham have some of the highest rates in the state for Alzheimer’s and related dementias among older residents (each at 19 percent).

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