Aging in Boston: Key Findings

The Boston region is the population hub of the state and is characterized by the diverse mix of urbanized communities within its borders. While access to amenities and services that promote healthy aging is generally very good in most communities, the variation in health in later life is pronounced.

For example, Brookline has better than state average rates on 20 out of nearly 100 healthy aging indicators. Brookline is a member of the World Health Organization’s network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities and is seen as a model of healthy aging. The only indicators that older residents of Brookline rate worse than state averages are: depression, arthritis, hip fracture, glaucoma, breast and prostate cancer, and osteoporosis.

Some Boston neighborhoods like the South End and Mattapan have mixed patterns on indicators in comparison to state averages. At the other extreme, South Boston ranks with five other urban cities statewide – New Bedford, Fall River, Worcester, Lowell and Springfield – as one of the communities that scores below state averages on the greatest number of healthy aging indicators.

Compared to Massachusetts state averages, older residents of South Boston have higher rates of depression, Alzheimer’s disease, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), heart disease, hip fractures, and lung and colon cancer, among others.

In Massachusetts, 23 percent of adults age 60 and older are obese (BMI of 30 or greater), yet obesity rates exceed 30 percent in southeast Boston. The state average for older adults in Massachusetts who smoke is 9 percent with the highest rates (16 percent) found in the Dorchester, Mattapan and Roxbury neighborhoods.

On other indicators of healthy aging in the Boston region:

Hypertension. The Boston neighborhood of Roxbury has the fourth highest rate of hypertension among older adults in the state (84 percent compared to a state average of 78 percent). On the flip side, the neighborhood of Back Bay-Beacon Hill has the second lowest rate in the state of hypertension among older adults (61 percent).

Diabetes. Back Bay-Beacon Hill leads the state for the lowest percentage of older adults ever having been diagnosed with diabetes (15 percent compared to a state average of 32 percent). However, the Boston neighborhoods of Mattapan and Roxbury have the two highest rates in the state for diabetes (each above 46 percent). The neighborhoods of Hyde Park and Allston-Brighton also exceed the state average for diabetes, at 44 percent and 43 percent respectively.

Depression. Four Boston neighborhoods – Fenway-Kenmore, Chelsea, Allston-Brighton and Jamaica Plain – rank highest in the state, respectively, for depression among older adults (each above 37 percent compared to a state average of 29 percent).

Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias. Chelsea, Jamaica Plain and Roslindale have some of the highest rates in the state for Alzheimer’s and related dementias among older residents (each above 20 percent compared to a state average of 14 percent).

Prostate Cancer. The neighborhood of Mattapan has the state’s highest rate of prostate cancer among older adult men (21 percent compared to a state average of 15 percent).

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