South Carolina is doing a slightly better job helping its older residents live independently at home as they age, but the AARP says there's still more progress to be made.

S.C. rankings

How South Carolina fared out of 50 states in helping its elderly residents grow old at home.

Overall 34

Affordability and access 29

Choice of setting and provider 35

Quality of life and quality of care 29

Support for family caregivers 34

Effective transitions 16

Source: AARP's Scorecard on Long-Term Services and Supports for Older Adults, People with Physical Disabilities, and Family Caregivers

The state ranked 34th in meeting the long-term care needs of the elderly, according to AARP's second comprehensive state-by-state scorecard.

Teresa Arnold, state director of AARP South Carolina, said that rating is up from South Carolina's 38th ranking in 2011, though this year's survey measured some different facts, so it isn't an apples-to-apples comparison.

"It's still good news that we now have 33 states ahead of us instead of 37," she said.

Arnold said the vast majority of elderly residents want to live independently, with the help of unpaid family caregivers.

Even during its recent tight budget years, the state was able to increase funding by $6 million for more health and personal care aides who can assist family caregivers.

It also has approved $4 million - including $2 million in a budget proviso vetoed by Gov. Nikki Haley which lawmakers overrode this week - to provide respite care vouchers. These allow family caregivers to hire someone to look after their elderly relative for a short time so they can take a break.

"In my opinion, we're heading in the right direction," she said. "We can thank (former) Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell for raising attention to these issues."

The state's lieutenant governor also runs the state's Office on Aging, and McConnell toured the state to learn about how state government could do more to help elderly residents grow old in their homes. Last year, he helped the state pass a respite plan.

"He was the best example of using your bully pulpit when you don't have a lot of power," Arnold said.

In the big picture, about $1 billion is spent on long-term care in South Carolina, much of which goes to nursing homes. Helping family members care for aging relatives will reduce the use of nursing homes and ultimately save taxpayers money, Arnold said.

Haley has appointed a Long Term Care Task Force that is scheduled to make recommendations in January, just as the next legislative session begins.

Arnold said some changes, such as allowing personal care aides to help in more ways, would cost the state little. Expanding community services to the elderly that would help delay or forego their institutionalization might cost more but save money in the long run, she added.

North Carolina and Georgia ranked 28th and 36th, respectively, in the new AARP survey.

Minnesota and Washington were ranked as the best, while Alabama and Mississippi were at the bottom. Florida - a traditional retiree destination - ranked 43rd.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.