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More Virginia seniors facing mental health issues

Across Virginia, people have adapted to the new normal of pandemic life, but there are still concerns about the effects of the past two years on the state’s older residents and what could happen if COVID- 19 increase again.

A new report from the United Health Foundation (UHF) found that mental health among those over the age of 65 worsened between 2011 and 2020.

Amy Strite, executive director of senior connections at the Capital Area Agency on Aging, said she believes the mental health of seniors has deteriorated further in the past two years.

“I think a lot of that comes down to social isolation, loneliness, and a lack of connections,” Strite stressed. “And the toll it entails.”

According to the UHF report, more than 14% of seniors reported having depression in 2020, just over one percentage point compared to 2011. Strite noted that their organization offers programs to combat loneliness. the elderly, including health and wellness classes and volunteer opportunities.

Dr Rhonda Randall, medical director of the UnitedHealthcare businessman and individual, said the deteriorating mental health of the elderly is also linked to an increase in drug overdoses for people aged 65 and over. According to the report, the overall drug mortality rate among older virgins increased by almost 130% between 2008 and 2020.

“A lot of people may think that older people are not part of the problems we’re seeing with mental health and drug overdoses and suicides,” Randall noted. “But in fact, with drug deaths, the elderly were one of the groups that had the highest rate of increase.”

The Virginia Department of Aging and Rehabilitation Services can connect residents across the state with services and community organizations in their area. CommunityResourceFinder.org can also help people connect with services, including from medical services to housing opportunities.

The changes include a new crime that addresses the financial exploitation of an elderly person, and there are improved penalties for assault and theft, when a person is attacked for their age.

“If you live in a community, you’re worried that someone might be abused or isolated,” Carroll explained. “Make sure you really are such a good neighbor and move on.”

Carroll noted that the law strikes a good balance when it comes to accountability, while allowing older adults to seek services from financial institutions and make donations to trusted fundraisers. In addition to law enforcement, Iowa’s six area agencies on aging offer guidance and the Iowa AARP puts more details of the new law on its website.

Laura Kriegermeier, senior rights coordinator for the Iowa Heritage Agency for Aging, said they often get calls from people concerned about abuse. He added that older people who are taken advantage of by a loved one often worry about having them in trouble. She hopes the new law will convince them that the authorities must intervene.

“Just as it’s wrong for someone to abuse a child or take advantage of a child,” Kriegermeier stressed. “There are consequences … people go to jail.”

Kriegermeier added that in past situations, victims often limited themselves to seeking justice in civilian courts, but did not have the resources to carry out the process. He noted that the new law provides tools for others to take these cases forward, if the person feels comfortable filing a complaint.

“The potential for this, as it is criminal, could be much more fair,” Kriegermeier predicted.

Listening sessions will take place over the next few weeks in Cleveland, Portsmouth, Columbus and Lima. There is also an online survey for those who are unable to attend in person.

Williams said in the listening sessions, participants can share their experiences and opinions about what they need to thrive.

“The small focus group talks are an opportunity to really get to the issues that concern Ohio’s over-50s,” Williams said, “health care, retirement savings, housing and other issues.”

Williams said issues affecting older voters need to be addressed at the highest level. Many Ohio residents have a fixed income and explained that they are struggling to make ends meet with rising prices at the grocery store, gas station and pharmacy.

“The average American takes four to five life-saving prescription drugs,” Williams said, “and the cost of health care in our country has skyrocketed.”

More than 40% of Michigan seniors live alone and studies show that the pandemic has aggravated loneliness for many.

The state of Michigan has renewed a partnership with GetSetUp, an online learning platform that can help seniors learn to stay socially and connected from home.

Kayla Smith, health and wellness coordinator for the Michigan Office of Aging, Community Living and Support, said the program has supported many seniors to find Zoom in a safe environment and, to from here, all kinds of classes are available.

“There are a lot of classes that focus on health and wellness, and other topics,” Smith explained. “Like the Detroit Hustle, which is one of Michigan’s favorites. There are several fitness classes in the morning, and even one class to mess up your home.”

Smith added that Michigan residents who want to join the platform can connect at getsetup.io/michigan. If someone wants to help a family member or friend create their own account, they can visit the getsetupfriend.com website to guide them through the process. The platform can also be accessed at any library, where library staff can answer questions.

Lawrence Kosik, co-founder and president of GetSetUp, launched the platform to empower older adults with online learning and virtual education. He noted that since the program began, Michigan students have become educators themselves, teaching other classes on the platform. And in the first year of collaboration with the state, more than 108,000 people signed up.

“This live peer-to-peer interactive piece has been really wonderful,” Kosik remarked. “And not only do you learn the things you want and need to learn, but you make friends, form groups and take turns and take classes with those friends. So we like to say that people come to learn, but often, they stay for socialization.”

He added that GetSetUp was started before the pandemic, but it met a key need during those long months of isolation, helping people learn to do things, from ordering groceries and medicines online to doing their banking and use telehealth.

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