New Report Identifies Growing Challenges for Older Americans

May 18, 2021 | 3 min Read
  • Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. seniors were facing increased mental health challenges including increased drug deaths, suicide and frequent mental distress, according to a new report released today by America’s Health Rankings®.

These growing challenges have been exacerbated by COVID-19. As a recent survey by the AARP Foundation found, the pandemic undermined healthy routines by isolating people from one another and causing higher levels of anxiety and depression.

America’s Health Rankings Senior Report, now in its ninth year, provides a portrait of the health and well-being of older adults in the United States, capturing trends, successes and opportunities for health improvement. Using an updated model that emphasizes the impact that social, economic and environmental factors have on overall health, this year’s Senior Report highlights 49 measures of population health from 22 unique data sources that are used to highlight current and emerging issues affecting seniors.

According to the report, developed by the United Health Foundation in partnership with the Gerontological Advanced Practice Nurses Association (GAPNA), seniors across the country experienced some improvements in measures of access to quality health care and preventive services. However, progress was not shared equally across the country and disparities by geography, race/ethnicity and other factors persist. Health improvements for older adults were not experienced equally across the country, with populations in rural states and certain racial and ethnic populations facing greater challenges.

Key Findings

Before the pandemic, the risk of social isolation for seniors in a given state was correlated with higher rates of frequent mental distress. Other key findings include:

The Bottom Line

“The 2021 Senior Report shows meaningful progress, including an increase in flu vaccinations and number of geriatric professionals, on key measures of senior health in the period immediately preceding the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. Rhonda Randall, executive vice president and chief medical officer of UnitedHealthcare Employer and Individual. “However, the pandemic has underscored the challenges and disparities that impair healthy living and longevity for older adults around the country including a number of mental health concerns, highlighting the need for greater attention to senior health and well-being.”

Why It Matters

The number of Americans 65 and over is expected to rise to an estimated 85.7 million by 2050, roughly 20% of the overall population. The analysis of seniors’ health from the 2021 Senior Report can equip leaders with data and insights to inform priorities to manage public health needs now and into the future.

“The data in this report provide insights to better understand the underlying health of a population at greater risk of more severe illness from COVID-19,” said GAPNA President Sherry Greenberg. 

“The 2021 Senior Report provides the key information advanced practice nurses and other clinicians need to act on to enhance the health and well-being of our older adults, and ensure they can receive the right care, at the right time, in the right setting.”

Sherry Greenberg GAPNA President


America’s Health Rankings 2021 Senior Report

America’s Health Rankings, in partnership with GAPNA, collaborated with an advisory group of leading experts in senior health to develop the 2021 Senior Report. The Senior Report provides a comprehensive look at the health of seniors across the nation and on a state-by-state basis. This year’s Senior Report highlights 49 measures of population health from 22 unique data sources that are used to highlight current and emerging issues affecting seniors. This year’s report includes data that predates the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and does not assign overall state rankings.


Working Together to Improve the Health of Seniors

A United Health Foundation $5 million grant announced in 2020 to the AARP Foundation has helped raise awareness for AARP Foundation’s Connect2Affect digital platform, which is designed to reduce social isolation among low-income people age 50 and over and promote increased connections. Last year, UnitedHealthcare donated $12.3 million through Empowering Health grants across 21 states to help organizations address urgent needs in fighting COVID-19 and supporting impacted communities, including seniors.