Bainbridge Islanders live longer than most

Washington’s population enjoys the second-longest life expectancy in the nation, right after Hawaii. But people born and raised on Bainbridge Island may outlive them all.

Kitsap County data measured BI’s life expectancy to be about 87 years — 6.5 years longer than most other Kitsap residents, and 7.8 years longer than the state average. It’s also among the highest in the state — rivaling the San Juan Islands.

Calculating life expectancy is hypothetical — the average age at which people will likely die based on conditions in their environment, like air and water quality. The statistics reflect the high quality of life islanders enjoy. BI has a high number of senior facilities, and people here tend to have a healthy lifestyle, like eating well and exercising daily.

It goes beyond good habits, said Lena Wilson Tabafunda, BI Senior Center program manager.

“When I talk to our seniors, they tell me this is their happy place,” Tabafunda said. Because of the center’s social atmosphere, members feel comfortable — and seen, she added. “People say, ‘They hear me, they listen to me. I’m not invisible.’ The human connection is a big piece to longevity.”

The center provides as many activities as it can for seniors of all ages and income levels. Eventually, the center aims to be multigenerational because, “That keeps everyone young,” Tabafunda said.

One drawback to aging-in-place on BI is the lack of high-level medical care providers, which can become a challenge for seniors who require more frequent visits to a physician.

Researchers anonymously interviewed Kitsap senior care specialists, who reported that until access to healthcare improves in the county, there should be stopgap measures in place. Respondents lamented the lack of “tele-health” in the county, an umbrella term for online medical assessment services that has gained widespread use since the pandemic. Routine or non-emergency appointments, like prescription fills or physical therapy, can be conducted over the phone or video call, respondents recommended. More and varied use of technology for healthcare in Kitsap would significantly ease crowding in local urgent cares and emergency rooms.

Despite that obstacle, stress levels for BI seniors are pretty low, by Tabafunda’s observation. Chronic stress, it should be noted, can significantly shorten one’s lifespan. “None of them sweat the small stuff. They have enough experience to know that every day is a gift,” she said.