Lowndes Life Expectancy: The county ranked third in lowest life expectancy, attributed to chronic health conditions
Posted at 10:49 am, Tuesday, January 24, 2023
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Editor’s note: The following report is the first in a series of four articles highlighting low life expectancy rates in Lowndes County. Part 1 describes the main factors contributing to the decline in life expectancy in the county.
Citizens of Lowndes County have an average life expectancy of 70.3 years – 4.5 less than the statewide average and third shortest among Alabama counties.
And while a variety of factors contribute to the longevity results, county officials and providers attribute the low average to chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and factors that contribute to these conditions.
“Most of it is non-compliance, not using medication, particularly for high blood pressure and diabetes,” said Tonya Wilkes, nurse coordinator at the Hayneville Family Health Center.
Wilkes said a variety of factors affect non-adherence, such as forgetting or unwillingness to take medication and financial constraints that limit a person’s ability to purchase medication.
In December, Forklift ranked Lowndes County third among Alabama counties with the lowest life expectancies using 2022 County Health Rankings & Roadmaps from Institute of Population Health at the University of Wisconsin.
According to the 2020 US Census Bureau reportlife expectancy across the country has increased over the last four decades, reaching 79 years, but in August 2022 release from the Centers for Disease Control describes a decline in life expectancy since 2020.
According to Lowndes County Coroner Terrell Means, 275 deaths were reported in Lowndes County in 2022. Eight of those were homicides and three were attributed to suicide.
“Most of our deaths are health-related due to the fact that we don’t have paramedical services here,” Means said. “We don’t have a rural municipal hospital or a 24-hour clinic. It takes 30 minutes [to transport a patient] from Hayneville to Montgomery. Also, if paramedics are on call, it takes an extra 15-20 minutes to get someone from Montgomery to Lowndes County, depending on where people are in Lowndes County.
“We deal with several situations of congestive heart failure. We have a lot of diabetics and cancer patients in the county. We don’t have a facility here and we really don’t have reliable paramedic services. Volunteer firefighters respond, but they don’t always have someone to send to help.”
The Hayneville clinic provides primary care and outpatient services to approximately 80 Lowndes County residents each week. About 40 to 50% of these patients struggle to comply with recommended treatments for their chronic illnesses, Wilkes said, which contributes to a shorter life expectancy.
“If you’re diabetic and you don’t take your prescribed medication, it can cause kidney disease,” Wilkes said. “If you have high blood pressure that is not treated, it can damage your heart, causing heart disease, heart attack or stroke. High blood pressure over time overloads the body’s organs, damaging the heart and kidneys and can lead to death.”
Joseph Rightmyer, clinical director for the Department of Public Health for the East Central District of Alabama, said that while many people consider chronic health conditions such as hypertension to be a disease of older citizens, the condition can affect even younger adults who may be at greater risk and contribute to a shorter life expectancy when left unmanaged.
“Hypertension can lead to a lot of problems in terms of heart disease,” Rightmyer said. “This might surprise you, especially African Americans, because they are most at risk. You don’t think you’re going to have health problems in your 30s, but if you’re in a high-risk group, it can sometimes happen that you sneak.”
Residents have limited access to healthy food in the area, which compounds the problem, Wilkes said, and transportation is also a consideration.
A lack of accessible transportation prevents many adults and youth from receiving preventive health care, she said. Many residents with chronic health conditions are unable to get the care they need for their condition.