Aging in Central Massachusetts: Key Findings

Worcester ranks with five other urban cities statewide – New Bedford, Fall River, Lowell, South Boston and Springfield – as one of the communities that scores below state averages on the greatest number of healthy aging indicators. On the flip side, the town of Harvard ranks as one of six communities that scored better than the state average on the most indicators of healthy aging. By nearly every indicator – from preventative health to chronic disease to service utilization – older residents of Harvard are doing better than state averages.

Worcester has rates below the state average on 20 out of nearly 100 indicators. These include higher rates of disability, age-adjusted mortality, depression and chronic disease (e.g., diabetes, hypertension, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), heart disease, congestive heart failure, osteoarthritis, men with prostate cancer, osteoporosis). It also has higher rates of hip fracture and the highest rate in the state of falls severe enough to cause an injury. The one area where Worcester scores better than the state average for older adults is a lower rate of glaucoma.

Compared to state averages, older residents of Fitchburg do better on some healthy aging indicators with lower rates of hypertension and prostate cancer. However, older residents of Fitchburg have higher rates of depression, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, stroke, COPD, heart attacks and glaucoma. Older residents of Fitchburg also have higher rates of emergency room visits, and are less likely to take the health promotion step of having a shingles vaccine.

In Massachusetts, the state average for persons age 65 or older having four or more chronic conditions is 59 percent. Several communities in the Central region have higher rates (over 61 percent) including Blackstone, Charlton, Clinton, Dudley, Gardner, Hopedale, Southbridge and Worcester.

While increased chronic conditions are associated with age, there are 23 communities in Massachusetts where 13 to 16 percent of residents age 65 or older do not report any chronic conditions. One third of these communities are in the Central region, including Ashburnham, Barre, Berlin, Bolton, Douglas, Harvard, Lunenberg and Shirley.

On other indicators of healthy aging in the Central region:

Hypertension. Several communities in the Central region, including Ashburnham, Hardwick, New Braintree and Oakham, have lower rates of hypertension than the state average. In fact, only 68 percent of older adults in Ashburnham have hypertension compared to a state average of 78 percent.

Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias. The town of Gardner has the highest rate in the state of Alzheimer’s and related dementias among residents age 65 or older (24 percent compared to a state average of 14 percent). Webster follows with the third highest rate in the state for the disease (22 percent).

Stroke. The lowest and highest rates for stroke among older adults are both found in the Central region, with a rate of 8 percent in Douglas and 17 percent in Webster.

The highest rates of adequate emotional support among adults age 60 or older (over 80 percent ) are found in towns outside of the City of Worcester including Auburn, Boylston, Holden, Leicester, Millbury, Paxton, Shrewsbury and West Boylston.

The northern part of the Central region, including the communities of Ashburnham, Ashby, Fitchburg, Gardner, Townsend, Westminster and Winchendon, has significantly higher rates (over 45 percent) of complete tooth loss compared to the state average of 36 percent.

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