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Older Texans Say They're Exercising, But Also Smoking More


Wednesday, May 26, 2021   

AUSTIN, Texas - Many folks have acknowledged dealing with more anxiety since the pandemic hit. But even before that, seniors were experiencing increased mental and behavioral health challenges, according to a new report.

The annual report from the UnitedHealth Foundation found that between 2016 and 2019, people age 65 and older have seen increases in drug-related deaths, suicide and frequent mental stress, nationwide.

In Texas specifically, said Dr. Rhonda Randall, executive vice president and chief medical officer of UnitedHealthcare Employer and Individual, seniors have renewed a habit many had given up.

"More seniors reported that they were smoking in Texas in the year 2019 than they did in 2017," she said, "by a magnitude of 63%."

Randall warned that smoking has a high correlation with heart disease, cancers and many other medical conditions. In contrast, the report said Texans older than age 65 increased their physical exercise by 51% in the same two-year timespan, and ate fruits and vegetables at a higher rate than did their counterparts in many other states.

Randall said older Texans also are getting more sleep than older residents of most other states, and - if they need it - can more readily rely on home health care.

"And they have access to home health-care workers," she said. "There are more home health-care workers per capita in Texas than there are in many other states."

Nationally, flu vaccinations among seniors were up in 2019 versus the two-year period prior to that by 6%. But by far, Randall said, the most worrisome trend is older people reporting health issues because they spend so much time alone.

"We saw a risk of social isolation continue to increase in this year's report," she said. "We know that there is a significant correlation between social isolation and overall health, and in particular, behavioral health."

By 2050, people older than 65 are expected to be about one-fifth of the total U.S. population. The authors said they hope the 2021 Senior Report will help leaders set future public-health priorities.

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.

Report, 5/18/21

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