Report Card: Senior Health

Aug. 13, 2018

senior health graphic state of tennessee

A quick look at the over-65 population in Tennessee

There are more than 1 million people ages 65+ in Tennessee.

That’s 16% of Tennessee’s 6.7 million people.

55 million seniors are expected to be living in America by 2020.

National Health Index

The conditions with the biggest health impacts in Tennessee that affect seniors are:

  • Hypertension: 13.5%
  • Depression: 8.8%
  • Substance or alcohol abuse: 8.2%
  • High cholesterol: 7.8%
  • Heart disease: 7.6%
  • Diabetes: 5.9%
  • COPD: 4%

According to the BCBS Health Index, the health impact of a condition is how much it adversely affects the health of a population.


1 in every 2 Tennessee seniors has high blood pressure.


Tennessee seniors are more likely to be depressed than U.S. seniors as a whole.


More than 25% of U.S. seniors have diabetes. That percentage is higher in Tennessee.

Heart disease

More than 25% of Tennessee seniors die from heart disease, which is higher than the U.S. rate.

Alzheimer’s disease

  • 110,000 Tennesseans age 65+ have Alzheimer’s disease.
  • There has been a 148% increase in Alzheimer’s deaths in Tennessee since 2000.


In the U.S. 20,000 people die due to flu each year.

  • 90% of flu-related deaths occur in the senior population.
  • Tennessee senior citizens are more likely to get a flu shot than the average American.

Substance & alcohol abuse

Tennessee seniors are less likely to drink too much alcohol than seniors in the U.S. as a whole.

Hospitalizations among Tennesseans 65+ due to painkillers, however, have more than tripled in a decade. Older adults are hospitalized for reasons ranging from falls to car accidents to unintentional overdoses. This mirrors the statewide increase in opioid abuse across all populations.

Oral health

  • 46% of Tennessee seniors experience significant tooth loss.
  • Tennessee consistently ranks as one of the 10 states with the worst dental health according to Oral Health America.

Mobile dental units are one way BlueCross and partners are reaching out to Tennesseans to provide dental care.


Tennessee seniors are more likely to smoke than the average American senior citizen.

Elder abuse

There are 5 million+ elder abuse victims in the U.S.

That’s more than the total of child abuse and domestic violence victims combined.

Tennessee is 1 of 6 states with the greatest elder abuse protections.


Nearly 1 in 6 seniors in America faces the threat of hunger.

  • Hunger has increased 65% among seniors from 2007 to 2014.
  • 50% of seniors who are at risk of being food insecure live above the poverty line.

Likelihood of food insecurity by race

  • African-American seniors: 50%
  • Hispanic seniors: 40%
  • White seniors: 16%

Diseases related to food insecurity

The more food insecure seniors become, the more likely they are to develop diseases such as:

  • Depression
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes


Nearly 30% of Tennessee seniors are obese.


Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among older adults.


Tennessee ranks 35 out of 50 states on WalletHub’s list of the best places to retire. The state scores high in affordability but lower in quality of life and health care.

  • Affordability rank: 5
  • Quality of life rank: 45
  • Health care rank: 44


Tennessee has 22 certified Retire Tennessee communities that meet the state’s criteria of providing the resources and amenities needed to be a viable retirement destination.

The counties are:

  • Anderson
  • Campbell
  • Carter
  • Cumberland
  • Dickson
  • Franklin
  • Hamblen
  • Hamilton
  • Hardin
  • Henderson
  • Jefferson
  • Loudon
  • Maury
  • Monroe
  • Putnam
  • Roane
  • Robertson
  • Sullivan
  • Sumner
  • Unicoi
  • Warren
  • Washington

Click here to read more about these communities.

Assisted living

Tennessee senior citizens are less likely to get moved into a nursing home before necessary than Americans as a whole.

According to the National Council for Aging Care, Tennessee is one of the 5 worst states to live in if you need nursing home Medicaid benefits:

  • Kentucky
  • Alabama
  • Mississippi
  • Tennessee
  • Indiana

Stories about senior health

Click the photo to read how the Pat Summitt Foundation is carrying on her fight to defeat Alzheimer’s Disease.

The Taylor Swift Education Center at the Country Music Hall of Fame offers online songwriting classes for seniors in addition to teens. Click the photo to read more.

Click the photo to read more about Knoxville’s Flu Shot Saturday.

Click the photo to read how 89-year-old Dean Stevens says yoga has helped her stay healthy.

4,000 people compete in the Tennessee Senior Olympics annually. Click the photo to read more.