Seniors in rural areas have worse health outcomes

Older adults in rural areas have worse health outcomes than those in urban areas, says a new study, because of greater barriers to healthcare access.

senior medicine

Image courtesy Freedigitalphotos.net

An Oregon study of adults over 85 years of age found that rural residents have significantly higher levels of chronic disease, take more medications, and die several years earlier than their urban counterparts.

The findings are especially significant considering that by 2050, 25% of United States’ population is going to be 60 years of age and older.

“There are fewer physicians, fewer specialists, a higher caseload (in rural areas). Doctors have less support staff and patients have less public transportation. A patient sometimes might need to wait months to see a doctor, and have to drive significant distances,” said study author Leah Goeres.

“These are real barriers to choice and access, and they affect the quality of care that’s available.”

Researchers found that while rural participants survived for a median of 3.5 years post 2000, urban participants survived for more than double that time, a median of 7.1 years. They also found that rural participants were sicker than urban participants, and also got worse more quickly. Further, on average, rural participants took 5.5 prescription medications compared with 3.7 for urban participants.

“It’s been known for some time that health care is harder to access in rural areas, and this helps us better understand the extent of the problem,” said Goeres.

Older adults benefit from early flu treatment, study shows

Treating adults 65 years and over with an antiviral medicine as early as possible after detection of influenza reduces the time they spend in the hospital and their chance of disability, according to a study conducted by the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Courtesy Freedigitalphotos.net

Courtesy Freedigitalphotos.net

Researchers saw that when seniors were given antiviral flu medication early, it reduced their need for extended care. Seniors have a high risk of serious influenza complications.

“Flu can be extremely serious in older people, leading to hospitalization and in some cases long-term disability,” Dan Jernigan of the CDC said in a news release.

“This study shows that people 65 and older should seek medical care early when they develop flu symptoms.”

Adults 65 years and older are the most affected by severe flu disease, comprising 80-90% of deaths from flu in recent years and 50-70% of hospitalizations from the disease, according to the CDC. Thus, preventing serious complications through early treatment is of utmost importance. Vulnerable populations such as children, seniors and pregnant women should also get the flu vaccine every year.

Researchers found that seniors who sought medical care or who were hospitalized within two days of the onset of illness and who were treated with antiviral medicines within the first four days of illness had considerably shorter hospital stays than those who received treatment after 4 days of illness onset.

Further, patients who sought care early were 25-60% less likely to need extended care after leaving the hospital.

Researchers pointed out that lengthy bed restriction from hospital stays could add to seniors’ disability, in cases where flu is not treated promptly. They also cautioned that older age, presence of neurologic disorders, intensive care unit (ICU) admission, and pneumonia at admission may signal a need for extended care.

The study used data from 250 hospitals in 13 states over three flu seasons (2010-2013), said the CDC.