Report: More WV Seniors Isolated; Face Poverty, Lack of Support
Thursday, May 27, 2021
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A new America's Health Rankings report shows West Virginia is among the top three states in the nation with the highest number of adults age 65 and older, and many faced significant mental and behavioral health challenges even before the pandemic began.
Dr. David Elliott, professor of clinical pharmacy at the West Virginia University School of Pharmacy, said a majority of the state's seniors are aging in place, which comes with a host of challenges in rural communities.
"One of the issues is poverty in rural areas, and that is something that is affecting all sectors of our population, young and old, related to a changing economy and changing demographics," Elliott explained.
But Elliot noted in some parts of the state, communities are trying to find ways to connect with seniors living alone. Programs such as Meals on Wheels have stepped up to drop off more meals and have made phone calls to connect with residents.
Dr. Rhonda Randall, executive vice president and chief medical officer at UnitedHealthcare Employer and Individual, said seniors nationwide face worsening mental health.
"More drug deaths were seen in seniors, suicides were increasing, between the years 2017 and 2019, and more seniors reported frequent mental distress as well," Randall observed.
The report also found bright spots, including fewer numbers of seniors in the state are excessively drinking or have severe housing problems. Elliot pointed out many older adults receive the medical care they need but lack extended support after returning home.
"But if you look at the reason people end up in the hospital, the reason that they return to the hospital, it's really not about the hospital care most often, it's really about the support and infrastructure," Elliot remarked.
According to the report, the number of geriatric health-care professionals is up 13% since 2018, and more seniors are receiving routine clinical care such as flu vaccinations. However, disparities continue to persist along racial and geographic lines, with rural states and Black and brown populations facing greater challenges.
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