The 2023 Senior Report recently issued by America’s Health Rankings sheds light on the latest trends in the health and well-being of older Americans.
Highlighting the good news – and the bad – for aging adults in the U.S., the findings call attention to some of the greatest needs facing seniors in recent years.
For instance, while older adults’ mortality and drug-related death rates are on the rise, more elders now have improved access to the internet, home health care, and geriatricians than ever before. Perhaps most stark is the data revealing the particularly devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and opioid crisis on aging Americans.
In addition to assessing the overall health and well-being of U.S. adults 65 and older, the report touches on related areas that have an impact on this population, including social and economic factors and clinical care. What follows is a glimpse into a selection of the research results.
Health and Well-Being: Concerning Trends
More Elders Died Early
While deaths among adults ages 65 to 75 had declined from 2011 to 2019, the early death rate rose by 4 percent from 2019 to 2021, reversing this trend. The coronavirus pandemic that began in 2020 may explain this increase. Per the Kaiser Family Foundation, those 65 and older experienced the most deaths from COVID-19.
Suicides Increased in Those Over Age 85
Suicides grew in prevalence among the oldest Americans. The suicide rate rose by 9 percent for adults 85 and older.
Opioid Deaths Among Older Adults Are Surging
Drug-related deaths, which have risen in the past two decades, continued to increase. In large part because of the opioid crisis, drug overdose deaths increased by a staggering 43 percent between 2016 and 2018, and 2019 and 2021.
The opioid epidemic has greatly impacted older adults, as they often receive opioids for chronic pain or surgery recovery. In fact, elders experienced a 175 percent increase in deaths due to synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl and tramadol, between 2016 and 2021.
Fewer Seniors Reported Cognitive Difficulties
While rising death rates present a concern, older adults did experience better cognitive outcomes from 2019 to 2021. The percentage of Americans ages 65 and older reporting physical, mental, or emotional problems or difficulty remembering, concentrating, or making decisions decreased by 6 percent.
More Older Adults Had Multiple Chronic Conditions
From 2020 to 2021, the portion of Medicare beneficiaries with three or more chronic conditions rose by 13 percent. Chronic conditions can affect daily functions and mobility. Since seniors with multiple chronic conditions need medication, monitoring, and specialized medical attention, they constitute one of the highest-need population groups.
Physical Activity Declined
Reports of physical inactivity in adults 65 and older in fair or good health rose by 6 percent. Inactivity increases a person’s risk for diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
According to the report’s findings, Utah stands out as the healthiest state for older adults, and seniors in Mississippi rank as the least healthy.
Social and Economic Factors: A Mixed Bag
Poverty Levels Rose
Poverty is related to worse health outcomes, mental decline, mortality, and homelessness among older adults. The percentage of older adults experiencing poverty increased by 10 percent between 2019 and 2021. Housing costs burdened 31.1 percent of elder households, consuming more than 30 percent of their income.
Notably, poverty is also associated with aging adults who reported that their physical health had not been good for two weeks or more in the past 30 days. Frequent physical distress was three times higher among older adults with household incomes less than $25,000 than those making $75,000 or more. Lower levels of education were also related to experiences with physical distress.
Elders’ Access to Food Is Improving
While poverty rates have increased, fewer older adults are experiencing food insecurity. There was a marked 79 percent growth in home-delivered meals between 2019 and 2021. As the pandemic made grocery shopping difficult for many older adults, home-delivered meals presented an alternative.
More Seniors Gained Access to the Internet
High-speed internet became available to 7 percent more of older adults from 2019 to 2021. Particularly during the pandemic, internet access helped individuals stay connected to loved ones and receive telehealth services.
Older Adults Are Facing Less Risk of Social Isolation
Several factors have contributed to a decline in social isolation among older Americans from 2011 to 2021.
- Independent living difficulty rates lowered by 12 percent.
- Disability decreased by 7 percent.
- Fewer older adults were divorced, separated, or widowed, and there was a 3 percent reduction in individuals living alone.
Seniors Are Not Volunteering as Much as They Had
Engaging in volunteer opportunities can provide older adults with positive social interactions and a sense of purpose, promoting better cognitive functioning. Yet volunteering among seniors decreased by 22 percent between 2019 and 2022.
Clinical Care: Some Bright Spots
Access to Care Changed – for the Better
Seniors’ access to home aides and geriatricians expanded. From 2016 to 2021, there was a 5 percent increase in personal care and home health aides. The number of health care practitioners specializing in geriatrics grew 8 percent between 2021 and 2022.
Meanwhile, however, fewer Medicare beneficiaries received hospice care. The percentage of Medicare beneficiaries who died in hospice went from 50.7 percent in 2018 to 46.7 percent in 2020.
Data included in the 2023 report came from 22 sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).