Top 10 States for Seniors’ Well-Being

Hawaii not only is a great vacation destination, but a prime location for seniors to settle down: the Aloha State has again ranked as the best state for senior well-being in an annual list from Gallup-Healthways.

Arizona follows at No. 2, but this year’s list is not dominated by warm-weather havens. Alaska and some Midwestern states known for harsh winters also are in the top 10:

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Source: 2015 State Well-Being Rankings for Older Americans. Some states have identical scores due to rounding.

The 2015 State Well-Being Rankings for Older Americans are based on seniors’ well-being in five domains: purpose, social, financial, community, and physical.

Data was collected through interviews conducted over the course of 2015 and the first quarter of 2016. The total sample size was 115,572 people age 55 or older. Gallup, known for its public opinion polls, is a research-based, global performance-management consulting company. Healthways employs experts in research, analytics and medical science to work with clients across a range of health-related fields. The report was released Dec. 6, in conjunction with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) AgeLab.

Hawaii also grabbed the top spot in the 2014 version of the list, but Arizona, North Dakota, Colorado, Minnesota, and Wisconsin all were new to the top 10 this year. North Dakota also was the biggest mover in a positive direction, jumping from 31st to 4th.

The top 10 states all score highly in at least some of the well-being categories, but they may fall notably short in others.

For instance, North Dakota achieved a No. 1 ranking in the “financial” category, meaning it is a place where seniors can manage their finances to reduce stress and increase security. But the state was ranked No. 45 in the social category, meaning seniors could find it challenging to have supportive and loving relationships there.

In general, states like North Dakota that score highly in the financial well-being category tend to be good places for well-being generally, including for seniors, Dan Witters, research director for the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, told Senior Housing News.

While the survey that determines the index is a sophisticated and multi-faceted tool, there are a few indicators that high-performing states all tend to do well in, he said. These are what Witters calls “bell cow” indicators, after the cow that wears the cowbell, which the herd follows.

Another “bell cow” is in the social well-being category. It is related to whether a person has time for regular trips or vacations with family and friends. Others: Do you have a chance to use your strengths or natural aptitudes on a daily basis; have you set and reached goals in the last 12 months; and in the last year, have you received recognition for improving the city or place where you live.

In order to achieve high marks in these domains and others, there are some public policies that make a big difference, Witters said. He singled out public smoking bans, sugar taxes that affect products with high amounts of refined sugar, and “built structure” policies—such as those affecting transit or green spaces in a community—as impactful.

The bottom of the list remained largely consistent, with the bottom five states being Indiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and West Virginia. They were particularly poor performers in the “physical” domain, meaning seniors there report poorer health and lack energy to get things done daily. The states average rank in this domain was 47.2.

As in past years, the data reflect some positive trends related to aging.

“While incidence of obesity and depression spike from age 55 to 64, those age 65 and over report a decreasing incidence of both conditions,” the report notes. “Additionally, purpose and social well-being are particularly strong across all aspects for older Americans, accelerating at age 60 and 65, respectively.”

While seniors have many reasons to flock to states in the top 10, they may want to note that home health won’t come cheap in some of these locations. North Dakota, Alaska, Minnesota, and Hawaii all were among the top five most expensive states for home health in 2015, according to a separate report from insurer Genworth.

See where your state ranks.

Written by Tim Mullaney