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Seniors from Rural Parts of the U.S. Live Shorter than Seniors from Urban Areas, Study Finds

Update Date: Nov 12, 2015 05:01 PM EST

Seniors living in rural areas of the United States are more likely to die earlier than those living in urban areas, a new study reported.

For this study, the researchers set out to examine how residence and access to health care affect the lives of people aged 85 and above. The team used data from three cohorts made up of 296 adults living in Oregon. Two of the cohorts included people who lived in an urban setting.

They found that seniors from rural areas scored higher on the Modified Cumulative Illness Rating Scale, which meant that they have more chronic illnesses, more medications and shorter lifespans than seniors of the same age group living in urban areas. In terms of numbers, the researchers calculated that the rural residents had an 18 percent higher disease burden. Seniors from rural settings had a median survival time of 3.5 years whereas seniors from urban areas had a median survival time of 7.1 years.

"It's of particular concern that rural older adults start with more disease burden, which significantly increased over the next five years, but the average number of medications they used decreased over the same time period," said David Lee. "This may be due to difficulty accessing health care, leading to more disease burden over time, yet less use of medications. The opposite trends are seen in urban older adults."

The researchers noted that limited access to medical care could be hindering these seniors from receiving preventive care as well as emergency care when the illness takes a downward turn.

"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 Leah Goeres reported by MedicalXpress. "Many physicians do the best they can in rural areas given the challenges they face. But there are fewer physicians, fewer specialists, a higher caseload. 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. Adverse effects can increase from taking multiple medications."

She added, "These are real barriers to choice and access, and they affect the quality of care that's available."

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