In the initial weeks following Hurricane Irma, people in the most rural parts of Florida worried they would be overlooked and forgotten. Many in the least populated counties swept up in the massive relief efforts had never received services from state and federal government agencies before. According to Kevin Smith, an area commander for the Salvation Army in Florida, they didn’t pop up on anybody’s radar and rescuers didn’t know how significant their needs were until they reached them.
According to the Center for Disease Control and prevention, nearly 46 million Americans, 15 percent of the U.S. population, currently live in rural areas in this country. That their needs are different from urban areas may not be news to you, nor the fact that people in remote areas often feel overlooked and forgotten. What you might be shocked to find is there currently exists a striking gap in health between rural and urban Americans. A rural-urban disparity in life expectancy and mortality is increasing at an alarming rate.
As pointed out in a new report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, residents of rural areas in the United States tend to be older and sicker than city folks. They have higher rates of cigarette smoking, high blood pressure and obesity. They have higher rates of poverty, less access to healthcare and are less likely to have health insurance. They are also more likely to die from the leading causes of death in this country than urbanites.
Suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. While suicide rates in the United States have risen nationwide in recent decades, Americans living in rural areas are much more likely to die by suicide than those living in urban areas. Researchers believe a greater prevalence of lingering negative economic factors from the Great Recession, from 2007 to 2009, including house foreclosures, poverty and unemployment that continue to plague rural America as a factor. What is referred to as “deaths of despair” is on the rise in rural areas.
During the study period from 2001 to 2015, suicide death rates for people in rural counties were more than 17.32 per 100,000 individuals.
It is also noted that specific environmental hazards such as long travel distances to specialty and emergency care facilities put rural residents at higher risk of death. Car crashes are a leading cause of death nationwide. While collisions are more common on urban roads, it was found that fatalities occur more often in rural regions. In the South, for example, crash death rates ranged from 6.8 fatalities for every 100,000 people in the most urban areas to 29.2 deaths for every 100,000 people in the least urban areas. That seat belt use is lower in rural versus urban areas is also a significant factor.
It is believed that lower wages and higher unemployment in some rural communities might also mean more people are driving older cars with fewer safety features to prevent fatalities in a crash. Less proximity to designated trauma centers following traumatic injuries sustained in a motor vehicle crash is also a contributing factor. The study found that unintentional injury deaths were approximately 50 percent higher in rural areas than in urban areas, partly due to greater risk of death from motor vehicle crashes.
In 2020, the oldest members of the baby boom generation will be 74 years old. This rapidly expanding elderly population means an accompanying rise in the number of people living with the degenerative brain condition known as dementia. One in 10 Americans age 65 and over has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia. This growing health issue is hitting rural America hard. A recent report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts a significant swelling of the retirement-age population in rural America.
Keeping people with dementia at home longer can help slow its ravages. Aging in place is a preferred treatment strategy and also saves the expense of costly hospitalization. Unfortunately, dementia also takes a bitter toll on caregivers. Up to 40 percent of these individuals suffer depression; far higher than the general population.
An estimated 5.5 million Americans have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. By 2030, more than 8 million Americans will be living with some form of dementia. Typical out-of-pocket costs for dementia support can exceed $80,000 for the duration of the disease.
With dementia, physical isolation compounds the psychological isolation of the disease. As I write this, there are untold numbers of folks in rural America without insurance, isolated from support, undiagnosed and dealing with the toll of this progressive disease; alone with loved ones trying to care for them.
It is hoped that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention findings will signal a movement toward better understanding of the health threats that face rural Americans and the urgent need to address this national issue.
Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.