Forget the Sunbelt: Colder Areas Top New List of Best Cities for Seniors

Survey’s quality-of-life indicators point to cities including Minneapolis, Boston, and Pittsburgh.

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While sunny locales in the West and South often top retirement destination lists, a new survey of the best places for older residents found that many colder-weather areas actually offer the highest quality of life for seniors.

[In Pictures: Top 10 Cities for Senior Living.]

Using health, economic, and other quality-of-life measures, the survey named the folliwng 10 metro areas:

1. Minneapolis

2. Boston

3. Pittsburgh

4. Cleveland

5. Denver

6. Milwaukee

7. San Francisco

8. Portland, Ore.

9. Kansas City, Mo.

10. Newark, N.J.

The survey was sponsored by Bankers Life and Casualty Company's Center for a Secure Retirement, and conducted by researchers at Sperling's Best Places.

"Most surprising is that the survey results contain many cities we don't often associate with senior living," Scott Perry, president of Bankers Life and Casualty Company, said in prepared remarks. "We weren't interested in another study on where to enjoy your retirement, but instead wanted to find cities that did the best job in providing the services and support that seniors need. The top-ranked cities aren't what come to mind when you think about where to spend your golden years, but they scored high in the criteria most important to the 65-and-up bracket."

[See the U.S. News list of the Best Places to Retire.]

Research findings were based on a review of the nation's 50 most populous metropolitan areas, using nine sets of indicators that carried different weight in the rankings:

Healthcare (weight: 10). Areas were judged on the availability of physicians specializing in geriatric issues, the number of hospitals per capita and their ratings based on patient reviews, the number of nursing homes per capita and their ratings, and the presence of continuing care retirement communities. The market with the best healthcare, according to this criteria, is Indianapolis.

Economy (weight: 8). Measures included average consumer prices, sales taxes, and local unemployment rates. The No. 1 area: Pittsburgh.

Health and longevity (weight: 8). Factors included depression rates, mortality from cancer and heart disease, and life expectancy at birth and at age 85. The No. 1 metro area: San Jose, Calif.

Social (weight: 8). A satisfying social life depends on numerous factors, from the existence of a sizable peer group to recreational opportunities, according to the survey. After determining what percentage of the overall population is 65 or older, the study reviewed surveys discussing seniors' social and emotional well-being and satisfaction with life, along with data on the number of four-year colleges, libraries, restaurants, and performing arts venues in the area. No. 1 area: Boston.

Environment (weight: 6). Measures included the number of sunny days per year, local air and water quality, the presence and accessibility of bodies of water, and the number of local and state parks. The leading metro area: San Francisco.

[See 10 Places with the Oldest Population.]

Spiritual life (weight: 6). "Spirituality is a source of comfort and strength for many seniors," the survey said. Its rankings of a city's spirituality included the number of religious congregations per capita and the percentage of the population with a religious affiliation. The nation's top area: Salt Lake City.

Housing (weight: 5). Affordability was the top consideration for seniors, including median home prices, property tax rates, and rental costs. The country's top area: Oklahoma City.

Transportation (weight: 5). Public transportation is crucial for older populations. The study's measures included the accessibility of the city's public transportation system, if one exists, and the percentage of commuters who use mass transit. The top metro: San Francisco.

Crime (weight: 3). Property crimes and violent crimes were measured. The nation's lowest-crime area: Nassau-Suffolk County, N.Y.

Twitter: @PhilMoeller