NM seniors need more social, community connections - Albuquerque Journal

NM seniors need more social, community connections

We are all wired for emotional connection, and that doesn’t stop when we retire. In my experience as a geriatrician, seniors who have family or a strong support network by their side are more likely to remain living in their homes longer, get the care they need and have better health outcomes. Unfortunately, seniors who are more isolated with less of a social support system experience more challenges and often don’t receive important care.

Through my practice, I learned the path to better health for our seniors isn’t always through the doctor’s office. When seniors are a part of an active community, their health outcomes improve. But in many instances, these communities have been less active due to COVID-19. The lack of community support throughout the pandemic has exacerbated the impact of social isolation and mental health challenges, which affect quality of life and a sense of purpose and connection as our seniors age.

The United Health Foundation’s 10th annual “America’s Health Rankings Senior Report,” which highlights a 10-year analysis of improvements, challenges and disparities in health and well-being across all 50 states, reflects this reality for older adults in America who felt the impact of the pandemic in many ways.

Unfortunately, the Senior Report revealed a decade of worsening mental and behavioral health challenges among older adults. In the last 10 years, nationally, we saw a 13% increase in the suicide rate, a 9% increase in the prevalence of depression and an 8% increase in the prevalence of frequent mental distress among adults 65 and older. And drug deaths increased 147% among seniors ages 65-74.

The behavioral health measures in New Mexico were most concerning in this year’s report, with the state ranking 47th for suicide among those 65 and older and 30th in frequent mental distress.

The correlation between connection, community and independent living for seniors is so important to achieving healthy outcomes and a higher quality of life, including those behavioral health measures. But when someone doesn’t have a relational or chosen family, it is up to society to fill that need.

New Mexico ranked 41st overall healthiest state in this year’s Senior Report, which is very low. The disheartening combination of frequent mental distress and high suicide rates across the state represents a large gap in social support.

A study published in Health Services Research in 2013 found that increases in home- and community-based services for older adults, such as home-delivered meals, congregate meals or community centers, were associated with a decrease in the rate of low-care residents in nursing homes. And data from the 2018 Older Americans Act Report to Congress also suggested community support services are effective – 65% of congregate meal clients and 92% of home-delivered meal clients reported that these services helped them continue to live independently at home. Increasing the number of licensed home health care workers per capita is another area of opportunity.

The AARP Foundation offers a program, Connect2Affect, that helps seniors who are experiencing isolation or loneliness. This program offers solutions in collaboration with the Gerontological Society of America, Give an Hour, USAging and UnitedHealth Group. Connect2Affect uses research to create a deeper understanding of loneliness and isolation, draw crucial attention to the issue, and catalyze action to end social isolation among older adults.

It’s clear programs that support behavioral health and social services for older adults can help them maintain independence and hopefully, improve behavioral health measures.

We need to help the seniors in our lives reconnect with their communities and activities they have enjoyed in the past but have not yet returned to on a regular basis. And we need to bolster programs that offer evidence-based community support. Equipped with this data, I hope we can work together to address emerging health disparities among older Americans so they can remain independent, in their homes, and connected to their communities.

Rhonda L. Randall, D.O., is a fellowship-trained geriatrician with a focus on hospice and palliative medicine, and is board certified in family practice. She completed her internship, residency, chief residency and fellowship at Florida Hospital in Orlando.

Home » Opinion » Guest Columns » NM seniors need more social, community connections

Insert Question Legislature form in Legis only stories

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

taboola desktop

ABQjournal can get you answers in all pages


Questions about the Legislature?
Albuquerque Journal can get you answers
Email addresses are used solely for verification and to speed the verification process for repeat questioners.
Biz Bits: Albuquerque Business Journal
ABQnews Seeker
Biz Bits: Albuquerque Business Journal Biz Bits: Albuquerque Business Journal
Tallking Jobs: Blindsided with a firing, struggling to recover ...
ABQnews Seeker
Dear J.T. & Dale: I was ... Dear J.T. & Dale: I was at a job for five years and was unexpectedly blindsided with a firing.
Couple behind Mountaintop Extracts shifted the cannabis space in ...
ABQnews Seeker
The goal, Eric Merryman said, was ... The goal, Eric Merryman said, was to create safety standards for cannabis extraction — and to offer up the highest-quality products possible for patients.
Editorial: Casita proposal worth exploring, but details crucial
From the Editorial Board: Literally ... From the Editorial Board: Literally changing Albuquerque's housing landscape requires proper guardrails to protect property owners' rights.
How to make white privilege work for everyone
From the newspaper
OPINION: What are we going to ... OPINION: What are we going to do with what we now know or how are we going to "wake up"?
Some tips for Gen Z and beyond to maximize ...
From the newspaper
SOLUTION: Gen Z: get familiar with ... SOLUTION: Gen Z: get familiar with health insurance lingo. Understanding common terms allows you to accurately evaluate your needs, understand and compare benefits, and ...
Man charged in connection with fatal shooting of girlfriend
ABQnews Seeker
After the death of his 18-year-old ... After the death of his 18-year-old girlfriend in a Saturday-night shooting, Carlos Gonzalez, 24, was arrested by Albuquerque Police Department homicide detectives and charged ...
Business Column: In financial matters, government role has upside ...
ABQnews Seeker
Politics is directly intersecting with the ... Politics is directly intersecting with the economy — macro, micro, public and personal — in a not-so-rare standoff in Washington, D.C.
Setting record straight on thermometers, metal prices
From the newspaper
Dear Car Talk: Can you explain ... Dear Car Talk: Can you explain how the thermometers in cars?