September 27, 2013

12 Best U.S. Cities for Successful Aging

The Milken Institute rankings, compiled every other year, tally 78 variables on metropolitan regions, with surprising results

Which metropolitan regions are best for older folks to live and, more importantly, succeed? Which metropolitan regions are best for older folks to live and, more importantly, succeed?

As boomers age, their retirement ambitions are likely to include more than just trading in their winter snow shovels for a fair-weathered community in a low-tax state. That is why the Milken Institute created its Best Cities for Successful Aging Index, which they compiled in 2012 and won’t update till 2014.

Last year, ThinkAdvisor published two, more extensive versions of the Aging Index: 20 Best Big Cities for Successful Aging and 15 Best Small Cities for Successful Aging. In this version we’ve condensed those findings, extracting the top cities of those two stories and combining them here into two categories: big metro areas and small metro areas.

Far from a list of Florida cities with cheap, and early, eats, the Milken Institute rankings (which are actually dominated by cold-weather places) take into account a wide number of variables — 78 in fact — that point to a community’s health care resources, safety, affordability, comfort, ease of transportation, second-career opportunities, cultural offerings and community connectedness.

The study’s authors — Anusuya Chatterjee, Ross DeVol and Paul Irving — drilled deeply. In the area of heath care, for example, they looked at the number of doctors, hospital beds, dialysis centers and more; the number of hospitals with Alzheimer’s units and hospice centers; hospital expenses per inpatient day; the percentage of hospitals with medical school affiliations; and more than a dozen other factors.

They did the same for wellness indicators, financial indicators, employment and education indicators as well; they did all this for large metro areas and small metro areas, and they did this for two age cohorts — 65 to 79 and 80 and older. The result is a multivariate ranking on steroids.

“This index is a first research of its kind in the United States using public-use data that determine the overall quality of life for seniors,” Milken Institute scholar Anusuya Chatterjee said, commenting on the study for ThinkAdvisor. “Ninety percent of seniors want to age in [the same] place, and this index looks directly at how cities are meeting these needs.”

The big study examined two cohorts: one that included the 100 largest cities and regions and the other 259 smaller metropolitan areas. Please read ThinkAdvisor’s slice of that large study: 12 Best U.S. Cities for Successful Aging.

Top 6 Small Metro Areas for Successful Aging

Retirement housing built by University of Florida. (Photo: AP)

6.  Gainesville, Fla.

Overall Score: 92.26

Age 65-79 Rank and Score: 5; 91.86

Age 80+ Rank and Score: 6; 93.25

TAKEAWAY: Home of the University of Florida, Gainesville is a vibrant town with great weather and a strong fiscal base. The university-affiliated Shands HealthCare system is one of the best in the nation. However, a slow economy and a small senior population in the metro might prevent seniors from relocating here.

Mayo clinic

5.  Rochester, Minn.

Overall Score: 92.49

Age 65-79 Rank and Score: 12; 89.06

Age 80+ Rank and Score: 4; 94.34

TAKEAWAY: The Mayo Clinic, one of the best hospitals in the nation, is located here. Needless to say, this has attracted many health care providers. Safe and secure neighborhoods offer a superior quality of life. But the sluggish economy and low college enrollment are definite weaknesses.

University of Missouri campus. (Photo: AP)

4.  Columbia, Mo.

Overall Score: 94.43

Age 65-79 Rank and Score: 4; 93.26

Age 80+ Rank and Score: 5; 94.00

TAKEAWAY: Thanks in part to a strong tax base, Columbia offers excellent educational facilities and health care. University-sponsored research is an incubator for innovation and new businesses, which gives seniors access to cutting-edge technology in health care and supports entrepreneurial activities. However, the metro is short on recreation and culture.

Capitol in Bismarck, N.D.

3.  Bismarck, N.D.

Overall Score: 95.44

Age 65-79 Rank and Score: 3; 93.30

Age 80+ Rank and Score: 3; 96.26

TAKEAWAY: The capital city is reaping the benefits of North Dakota’s oil and gas boom. It ranks high in senior employment, and the large service sector increases the chances of finding a job. If weather is not a high priority, Bismarck offers excellent opportunities for working seniors.

University of Iowa in Iowa City.

2.  Iowa City, Iowa

Overall Score: 98.63

Age 65-79 Rank and Score: 2; 97.07

Age 80+ Rank and Score: 1; 100.00

TAKEAWAY: Home to the University of Iowa and its medical school, Iowa City has excellent health care, little crime and relatively few seniors below the poverty line. On the flip side, housing and rentals are pricier than the median for small metros. Although its population skews younger, the presence of a young working-age population implies a solid fiscal base.

Falls Park in Sioux Falls.

1.  Sioux Falls, S.D.

Overall Score: 100.00

Age 65-79 Rank and Score: 1; 100.00

Age 80+ Rank and Score: 2; 97.58

TAKEAWAY: With a booming economy, low unemployment and a rapidly growing financial infrastructure, Sioux Falls is a good place for seniors who want to work or start a second career. Its hospitals specialize in geriatric services, hospice and rehabilitation, and the metro has recreation and an active lifestyle. But seniors might be turned off by the inclement weather and lack of contemporaries.

 Top 6 Big Metro Areas for Successful Aging

Bikers in Des Moines. (Photo: AP)

6.  Des Moines-West Des Moines, Iowa

Overall Score: 98.36

Age 65-79 Rank and Score: 8; 95.71

Age 80+ Rank and Score: 6; 98.01

TAKEAWAY: Des Moines has dynamic financial services and insurance industries, and its economic outlook is bright. However, the car is still king in this midsize Midwestern city, making it difficult for seniors who no longer drive. Des Moines ranks 45th out of 100 in the transportation/convenience indicator.

Jets flying in formation past Lower Manhattan. (Photo: AP)

5.  New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, N.Y.-N.J.-Pa.

Overall Score: 98.49

Age 65-79 Rank and Score: 3; 97.19

Age 80+ Rank and Score: 2; 99.96

TAKEAWAY: Greater New York hosts two of the top 20 hospitals in the U.S. Despite being the nation’s financial capital, it did poorly in the financial category because of high taxes and many seniors facing financial distress. If you can afford to live there, the area has all the big-city amenities — and all the negatives, too.

Boston park. (Photo: AP)

4.  Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, Mass.-N.H.

Overall Score: 98.93

Age 65-79 Rank and Score: 6; 96.70

Age 80+ Rank and Score: 1; 100.00

TAKEAWAY: It almost goes without saying: Few places are as innovative or offer as many opportunities for education and retraining as the greater Boston area, home to more than 100 colleges and universities. For culture vultures, the area is full of theaters, historic places, lively lectures and music venues.

Fountains in Omaha.

3.  Omaha-Council Bluffs, Neb-Iowa

Overall Score: 99.46

Age 65-79 Rank and Score: 7; 96.22

Age 80+ Rank and Score: 3; 99.53

TAKEAWAY: The greater Omaha area hosts the headquarters of five Fortune 500 companies, which contribute significantly to the area’s financial well-being and are a testament to its low-cost environment. The metro is becoming a health care hub for the surrounding area and a popular place for holding conferences.

Aerial view of Madison

2.  Madison, Wis.

Overall Score: 99.95

Age 65-79 Rank and Score: 5; 96.84

Age 80+ Rank and Score: 4; 98.67

TAKEAWAY: Home to the respected University of Wisconsin, Madison is a hub of innovation and intellectual stimulation. A midsize city with its own quality health care system and cultural events, Madison and its residents also benefit from being just 150 miles from Chicago’s amenities, services and consumer markets.

Provo from above

1.  Provo-Orem, Utah

Overall Score: 100.00

Age 65-79 Rank and Score: 1; 100.00

Age 80+ Rank and Score: 7; 97.93

TAKEAWAY: Provo has a relatively young population, but more older Americans have been moving to the metro over the past decade. A learning environment and vibrant economy provide opportunities for a second career and retraining. The presence of Brigham Young University, one of the largest private universities in the U.S., and a pro-business environment make Provo the No. 1 city on our list. It also boasts a low incidence of chronic disease, thanks to healthy lifestyles and a focus on wellness. Provo is an excellent location for seniors who are relocating or hoping to age in place, with safety, security, high community engagement, quality health care, a healthy lifestyle, and opportunities for second careers and entrepreneurship.

(Read the full Milken Institute report on Best Cities for Successful Aging.)

-- Check out these Top 10 lists from ThinkAdvisor:

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