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The South Dakota State University Extension recently released ‘A Profile of Older South Dakotans’ authored by Gerontology Field Specialist, Leacey Brown. The document is a broad overview of social indicators from marital status to health insurance coverage and emphasizes the need for innovative collaboration among communities and organizations to manage this significant social change.

As the Quality Improvement Organization for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, this growing demographic is the focus of the Great Plains Quality Innovation Network (QIN) efforts to ensure better healthcare, improved health, safer care and lower healthcare costs.

“Age is a risk factor for every chronic health condition, making access to primary, acute and long-term healthcare services essential,” stated Nancy McDonald, director of quality improvement for Great Plains QIN. “Healthcare professionals providing care for the older population must also consider clear communication, patient and family engagement and available community resources.”

Much of the state is rural and the long distance between delivery sites creates transportation issues. In addition, many acute or chronic conditions require routine monitoring and medication, which contributes to the overall cost.

Limited financial resources for a higher risk population are certainly an obstacle. While the profile indicated a majority of older South Dakotans have some form of health insurance, it also reported approximately half of older people reporting income earned less than $25,000 and 21.2 percent live below 150 percent of the poverty threshold.

Additional highlights within the profile document included the following health-related statistics:

  • Health risk factors: low physical activity (86 percent), overweight or obese (66 percent), high blood pressure (59 percent)
  • Alzheimer’s disease affects approximately 17,000 people
  • South Dakota ranks fifth in the nation for deaths from falls for those 65 and over

Content experts on staff offer technical assistance, tailored education, best practices, tools and resources aimed to improve patient safety, reduce harm and improve clinical care at the local and regional levels. Great Plains QIN encourages healthcare providers and communities to engage in implementing data-driven quality improvements initiatives.

Brown concluded with a reminder that the solutions developed for today will have an impact on communities and future generations. She states, “…stakeholders and decision makers are well served to base economic and community planning decisions on a more nuanced understanding about the diversity of older people and factors that contribute to how individual people experience aging.”