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Report Highlights Challenges to Seniors’ Health

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Monday, May 24, 2021   

ALBANY, N.Y. - Even before the pandemic, seniors were experiencing increasing mental and behavioral health challenges, according to a new report.

The annual report from the United Health Foundation says between 2016 and 2019, there were increases in drug-related deaths, suicide and frequent mental stress among people 65 and older nationwide.

Although the numbers varied geographically and there were disparities between racial and ethnic groups, Dr. Rhonda Randall - executive vice president and chief medical officer at UnitedHealthcare Employer and Individual - said those trends were further exacerbated by COVID-19.

"We saw a risk of social isolation continue to increase in this year's report," said Randall. "We know that there is a significant correlation between social isolation and overall health and, in particular, behavioral health."

The data shows seniors in New York had a low suicide rate and a 28% decline in frequent mental stress in the four years before the pandemic.

New York also had the nation's highest rate of access to federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits for low-income seniors and was number one in access to home health workers for seniors with disabilities.

But Randall pointed out there is room for improvement in other health indicators.

"New Yorkers see more seniors living in poverty," said Randall. "A lower use of hospice care for people who are terminally ill when no cure is available, and not getting enough sleep over the age of 65 is pulling New York down."

The report also shows a higher prevalence of severe housing problems and low coverage of pneumonia vaccinations among seniors in New York.

But Randall noted there were some bright spots in the national data.

"In the good category," said Randall, "flu vaccinations were up in 2019 versus the two-year period prior to that by 6% nationally."

By 2050, people older than 65 are expected to be about one fifth of the total U.S. population. The authors hope the 2021 Senior Report will help leaders set future public health priorities.

Disclosure: United Healthcare contributes to our fund for reporting on Health Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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