Report shows not all N.H. towns aging the same

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/27/2019 10:03:32 PM

LYME — Three Upper Valley communities — Piermont, Orford and Lyme — rated among the best in New Hampshire on a range of health indicators for seniors in a new report on aging.

Some of the reasons for that may be related to income and other socioeconomic factors, but a careful reading of the New Hampshire Healthy Aging Data Report, released earlier this month, shows that Lyme ranks above the state average in the number of younger seniors (those between the ages of 65 and 74) and below the state average in the number of older seniors (those 75 and older).

“People can’t stay in Lyme,” said Martha Tecca, who served as an adviser on the report, which was produced by the Gerontology Institute at UMass Boston and funded by the Tufts Health Plan Foundation. It’s “harder to stay here as they get more infirm.”

In comparison, the report’s community profile for Hanover shows that seniors there are older and have higher than average rates of deafness or hearing impairment, and Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia. Tecca — a management consultant who lives in Orford and ​​​​​is the president of Community Care of Lyme, an organization that connects those in need of care with community resources — attributed this difference between neighboring Upper Valley communities to Hanover’s senior living facilities, such as Kendal at Hanover and Wheelock Terrace, both of which have memory care units.

The data, which come as the state and the region are aging, with the proportion of New Hampshire’s population over 65 expected to increase to roughly one-third in by 2040, may help inform conversations about housing for older, frailer seniors and help communities to address widespread challenges such as social isolation and depression, Tecca said.

These are the types of topics Beth Dugan, the report’s principal investigator, hopes local communities will take up, using the data found in the report as a starting point.

It’s “rare that data gets down to the level we do,” Dugan said.

Solutions to problems that emerged in the report have to come from the ground up, she said.

Lyme, Orford and Piermont are in the same part of the state and generally rate well in categories known as “social determinants of health,” such as income levels, but in reviewing community profiles, Dugan said, “each one tells a different story.”

For example, Dugan noted that nearly 42% of those over 65 in Piermont are still employed, compared with the state average of about 25%. It’s unclear from the data whether people love their careers or whether they have to keep working, she said.

She also noted that New London, which also ranks well on several senior health indicators such as rates of diabetes and obesity, has a higher than average rate of seniors who have been widowed, about 26%, compared with 23% statewide.

Though the data did not surprise Kathleen Vasconcelos, executive director of the Grafton County Senior Citizens Council, she did find that it supported areas she and her staff are already focused on addressing, including depression and isolation.

Some communities in Grafton County had rates of seniors who have been diagnosed with depression above the state average of nearly 29%. For example, Vasconcelos pointed to Haverhill, which has a rate of 31%.

Depression and isolation are especially challenging in rural communities when seniors may not have neighbors nearby, Vasconcelos said. In an effort to tackle this issue, Meals on Wheels drivers check on seniors who are homebound, and the senior centers offer transportation to those who cannot drive to doctor appointments or other activities. She and her staff are “really focused on isolation and how to address that for our seniors,” she said.

Though Lyme, Orford and Piermont had slightly lower percentages of seniors with depression than the state average, all three still had more than 26% of seniors who had been diagnosed with depression at some point since the age of 65.

“It seems to relate to isolation and (the) sense of loneliness” that some seniors feel, Tecca said.

When communities plot a path forward as their populations age, Dugan said she suggests they “pick something that you can get a win.”

Tackling challenges such as heart disease rates can require a multifaceted approach including having walkable places and access to fruits and vegetables and good quality health care, Dugan said.

But, she said, something like the rate of flu immunizations, is “pretty fixable.”

Lyme has a higher-than-average percentage of flu immunizations for those over age 60, 66% to the state’s 59%.

But, Tecca said, “That looks like something that we could do better.”

She said she hopes to use the data contained in this report to kickstart conversations and make changes that could improve quality of life.

Tecca said she was also struck by how across the state about 54% of seniors are living with four or more chronic diseases and nearly 40% of seniors in Lyme, Piermont and Orford are doing so.

On the positive side, Tecca said that her surprise at these numbers indicates that “generally people manage” their chronic conditions, but it also reminds her that when communities plan activities they ought to make sure they are adequately accommodating those with chronic ailments such as hearing impairment.

Tecca said she is passionate about increasing the sense of “neighborliness” in communities both on an individual and a regional basis.

“What can we really do if we talk across communities a little more?” she said.

The Tufts Health Plan Foundation, which funded the report, began funding small Momentum Fund grants to help support New Hampshire community efforts to become more age friendly last year, said Nora Moreno Cargie, the foundation’s president.

Three of these approximately $10,000 grants went to support efforts in the Upper Valley; one to the Grafton County Senior Citizens Council for an arts program aimed at building social connections between seniors in rural areas; another grant went to the Upper Valley Community Nursing Project for a new electronic documentation system, and the third to the United Valley Interfaith Project to expand its “Aging with Dignity” course.

Moreno Cargie said the new data report can help inform community groups as they seek funding. She hopes to stimulate creative thinking that will help community members of all ages.

“We are beginning to see unusual suspects engage in this whole field of aging,” Moreno Cargie said. “It’s something that affects all of us.”

Momentum Fund grant applications are due on Sept. 19. The report and community profiles can be found at healthyagingdatareports.org.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at 603-727-3213 or ndoyleburr@vnews.com.




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