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Mental Distress, Social Isolation on the Rise Among NC Seniors

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Wednesday, June 29, 2022   

More older adults in North Carolina are feeling mentally distressed and socially isolated, according to the latest America's Health Rankings Senior Report.

The data also revealed a stark increase in the early death rate among older Americans of color. Between 2019 and 2020, Hispanic seniors saw a 48% increase in early deaths, and Black seniors saw a 29% increase. Drug overdoses are among the top contributors.

Dr. Rhonda Randall, chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare employer and individual, said drug deaths are up by 85% among older residents of the Tar Heel state.

"A lot of people may think that seniors are not part of the problems that we're seeing with mental health and drug overdoses, and suicides," Randall observed. "But in fact, with the drug deaths, the seniors were one of the groups that had the highest rate of increase."

She reported more older adults have said they feel mental distress or social isolation 14 or more days a month. According to the report, nationwide suicide rates among older adults increased by 13% between 2018 and 2020.

Randall believes advocacy groups, families, and communities can help spearhead efforts to increase resources to improve senior health, especially when it comes to assisted living options. She pointed to data in the report showing the state also currently lacks enough facilities capable of providing a high level of care for people who need it.

"To understand where to aim those limited resources, or what lifestyle choices we need to change, it really does come down to the community where you live," Randall noted.

It is not all doom and gloom, the report authors added. The past few years have seen a few silver linings in the older population, including progress in getting flu vaccinations and the overall percentage of seniors reporting they're in "good to great" health.

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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