Close up of a man holding his head on black.

Early deaths among seniors increased 17% between 2019 and 2020, according to America’s Health Rankings Senior Report issued Monday by United Health Foundation. The COVID-19 pandemic contributed significantly to the increase, but so too did a 147% increase in drug-related deaths and a 13% increase in suicide.

“The drug death increase that we have seen, we’ve seen parallel increases in suicide rates and rates of depression,” United Health Group Employer and Individual Chief Medical Officer Rhonda Randall, D.O., said during a virtual press conference Monday. “In the senior population, males are more successful at suicide attempts.  The reasoning is they tend to use more deadly means.” 

Randall said the increased rates of suicide and depression should result in a “call to action” among healthcare provides and payers. She said UHG worked with the American Medical Association several years ago to develop coding that addresses social determinants of health, which  include social isolation. She also said many payers are now covering in-home health visits that help providers identify care gaps among seniors and services that can help address them.

“Programs that we know help with things like that are home health aides, home delivered meals, adult day care and transportation,” Randall said.” All of those things are important when we do that assessment. 

Last year, the World Health Organization identified social isolation and loneliness as a growing global health crisis. Approximately, one-third of adults are lonely and a quarter of adults 65 and older are considered socially isolated. 

The report examined 62 measures from 21 unique data sources to help understand the impact that social, environmental and other factors have on senior health. Although the COVID-19 pandemic increased the early death rate among older adults and contributed to a deterioration in their mental health, seniors also reported a 13% improvement in their overall health. The top-ranked states in senior health included Utah, Vermont, Minnesota, Connecticut and Colorado. The bottom-rank states included Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky, West Virginia and Oklahoma. 

For more coverage of the Senior Report, see McKnight’s Senior Living.