Report reveals importance of social connection among older Coloradoans

By Dr. Matthew Husa, Chief Medical Officer for UnitedHealthcare in Colorado ~

The pandemic affected everyone in unprecedented ways. Social connections and support systems were heavily impacted, especially those of America’s older adults. The social relationships that are fostered by an active community decreased, and challenges in seniors’ health rose.

The United Health Foundation’s 11th America’s Health Rankings Senior Report highlights the many challenges, and strengths, in the health of individuals 60 and over across the country. The report covers 52 health measures.

Senior centers, which are helpful in increasing social connectivity and promoting community participation, saw a decrease in funding. The report shows that senior centers receiving funding from the Older Americans Act (OAA) decreased nationally by 5% between 2020 and 2021, and 23% since 2019. While this was likely due to pandemic-related closures, we encourage communities to invest in these important connective locations again now that it is safer to meet in person.

While some statistics show growing strengths in older American’s lives, such as a national increase in high-speed internet access and a significant decrease in food insecurity, the negative implications from social isolation are severe.

While Colorado demonstrates a relatively low risk of social isolation, it exhibits a high suicide rate; it is ranked third in overall health.

Physical inactivity, volunteerism, frequent physical distress, and early deaths all worsened on a national level for America’s older adults. All these factors contribute to or result in a decline in social connectedness, and these key findings cannot be ignored.

These concerning numbers should be a wakeup call to focus more on the mental and physical wellbeing of seniors everywhere.  Preserving social connectedness, mobility, and independence contributes to quality of life for older Americans. It’s important for us to learn from the data of this report and focus on promoting the wellbeing of all older Americans. 

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