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Minnesota Healthiest State For Seniors, But Big Problem Growing

(ABC 6 News) -- The number of seniors in the U.S. is expected to grow significantly over the next 20-30 years, and with that growth comes new challenges.

According the United Health Foundation, Minnesota ranks as the healthiest state in the nation for senior citizens.

The study said the state excels because of its high number of dental visits, low food insecurity, and top percentage of able-bodied seniors.

Thorne Crest Retirement Community in Albert Lea offers exercise classes focused on strength and balance to keep seniors happy and moving.

"Before we had this program, every day I would walk around the building three times,” said Doris DeNeui, a 96-year-old Thorne Crest resident. “But it isn't the same as being here with other people and exercising together."

But nationwide, a new threat to senior health appears to be growing: painkillers.

According to a USA Today investigation, the number of opioid prescriptions for seniors is up 20 percent over the last five years, roughly double the senior population growth over that same time period.

The study also showed roughly 336,000 seniors either abuse or are dependent on painkillers, nearly triple what it was a decade ago.

But at Curt's Pharmacy in Albert Lea, they're not seeing the rise in painkillers, but in anti-anxiety medication which can be just as dangerous.

"I have seen quite a bit of an increase in the sleep medication and anti-anxiety medication,” said pharmacist Curt Clarambeau. “Those medications are in what's called the Beers Group, they're not recommended at all for people over sixty."

Experts said because elderly people's bodies don't process medications as quickly, surprise reactions can be deadly.

"When you take medications like that and they build up, you end up more and more confused and accidental overdoses happen,” Clarambeau said.

Experts said opioid use can also increase chances for falls and bone fractures, saying seniors and others need to be careful and consult their doctor with any questions.