A lot of Kentucky seniors get teeth pulled — but have healthy drinking habits

State ranks poor for insufficient sleep, exercise and cognitive difficulties

By: - June 2, 2023 5:40 am

(Photo by Getty Images)

New data shows Kentucky among the worst states for key health points among senior citizens, including tooth extractions, food insecurity, insufficient sleep and more. 

The statistics, published in the America’s Health Rankings Senior Report in May, show Kentucky seniors have the most tooth extractions. 

It’s also the 49th worst for insufficient sleep, exercise and cognitive difficulties. Kentucky ranks 48th in the nation for food insecurity and 45th for obesity. 

Overall, Kentucky is the third most unhealthy state for older adults, healthier only than Louisiana and Mississippi. 

Dr. Michael Stockman, a geriatric physician based in Minnesota, said there is a “bright side” of the report. 

Older Kentuckians, generally, don’t drink too much or have severe housing insecurities and they consume sufficient fruits and vegetables. 

For older Kentuckians not to drink excessively “is great because excessive drinking can lead to things like liver disease, diabetes,” said Stockman, who works with UnitedHealthcare.“It can also interfere with the medications that people are taking as well.” 

The United Health Foundation released the report, which examines the health of older adults through the lens of 52 measures. Those measures include social and economic status, physical environment, clinical care, behaviors and more. The rankings are based on data available up to March 8, 2023. 

Still, Kentucky had higher rates of physical inactivity than the national average, the report showed, which Stockman said can itself lead to poor health. 

Nationally, 31% of seniors 65 and older are physically inactive, while the number jumps to 37% in Kentucky. 

“It’s important to do those simple daily things like walking 30 to 45 minutes a day to really make a positive impact on overall health and well being,” Stockman explained. 

Exercises like walking, stretching, yoga and tai chi can all help strengthen the body and prevent falls, which can lead to fractures, he said. 

Social isolation: 

Dr. Michael Stockman is a geriatric physician with UnitedHealthcare
(Photo provided).

Kentucky seniors are at high risk of social isolation, the Rankings report found, a fact exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The pandemic did really create a social isolation amongst all of us,” Stockman said. “I think seniors were disproportionately affected and it … worsened during that pandemic.” 

Kentucky ranks 46th for social isolation among older adults, per the report. 

“Being socially isolated puts people in a very vulnerable situation, particularly as they’re going through stressful life events common with aging, such as losing maybe a close friend or a family member, or as they move into retirement,” Stockman said. “Being socially isolated can lead to, really, a decline in a person’s cognitive functioning. It can increase the risk of depression and decrease the overall quality of life of older adults.” 

The bright side to that point, though, is that there are more households now with access to high speed internet than in 2019. The internet can help seniors gain access to telehealth appointments, stay in contact with family and friends and participate in social activities. 

Nationally, the 2023 numbers show a 7% increase in households of people 65 and older using high speed internet. In this metric, Kentucky fared better than the nation at a 9% increase from 2019 to 2021. 

During the 2023 legislative session, lawmakers passed and Gov. Andy Beshear signed a bipartisan House Bill that will allow Medicaid health providers to offer care via telehealth without being required to have a physical address. 

Other takeaways from the rankings 

Nationally, frequent physical distress increased 9% from 2020 to 2021. And, early death rates rose. 

“We know that the COVID-19 pandemic did have a disproportionate impact on older Americans,” Stockman said. “And that was reflected, really, in a continued increase in early death rate in the most recent data.” 

Other key points from the report include: 

  • The number of geriatric providers and home health care workers per capita both increased, meaning better access to care. 
  • Opioids were a “major component” in the continued rise of drug-related deaths among older Americans. Nationally, the number of drug deaths increased 43% between 2016-2018 and 2019-2021. 
  • In 2021, 5.6 million adults ages 65 and older lived in poverty, a 10% increase since 2019.
  • Utah, New Hampshire, Colorado, Minnesota and Vermont are the healthiest states for seniors.


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Sarah Ladd
Sarah Ladd

Sarah Ladd is a Louisville-based journalist from West Kentucky who's covered everything from crime to higher education. She spent nearly two years on the metro breaking news desk at The Courier Journal. In 2020, she started reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic and has covered health ever since. As the Kentucky Lantern's health reporter, she focuses on mental health, LGBTQ+ issues, children's welfare, COVID-19 and more.