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Some well-being metrics improve for seniors, but troubling trends loom large

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Older adults in Wisconsin and across the nation are navigating various challenges that affect their quality of life. An annual report shows progress, but concerning trends continue to persist.

United Health Foundation has released its America's Health Rankings 2024 Senior Report.

Nationally, high-speed internet access rose to nearly 85%. However, an additional half million older adults fell into poverty.

Wisconsin ranks 11th for overall well-being metrics for those 65 and older.

But Janet Zander, advocacy and public policy coordinator for the Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources, said many seniors not having enough money to cover the rising costs of basic expenses overshadow some of the positive results.

"Health, housing, and food are taking up far more than they actually make," said Zander. "And so, we are very concerned about that trend continuing."

On top of that, she warned that many aid programs and services older adults rely on are not seeing the funding increases that keep pace with demand.

She said while more Wisconsin seniors are connected to high-speed internet, she worried about that changing soon with funding drying up for the federal Affordable Connectivity Program, which provided discounts on monthly internet bills.

Dr. Rhonda Randall is a geriatrician, and an executive vice president & chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare Employer and Individual.

She said the annual findings are trying to add more nuance and data than previous reports.

"This report now looks at things like disability status, sexual orientation and veteran status," said Randall. "So, it really gives state policymakers and public health officials an ability to understand where the disparities exist."

For example, in Wisconsin, drug deaths were nearly 11 times higher among older Black adults than their white counterparts.

Nationally, overall drug deaths for this population have increased by more than 50% when compared with pre-pandemic reports.

Mike Moen is a radio news reporter with nearly two decades of experience in the field. He has covered much of the upper Midwest, including Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin and the Dakotas. Many of his stories have aired nationally, including several public radio programs.
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