Older adults face the greatest risk of social isolation in Mississippi and Louisiana and the lowest risk in Utah and New Hampshire, according to a new report from the United Health Foundation.

Social isolation is a new component of the 2018 America’s Health Rankings Senior Report, the sixth annual such report to be produced. The measure builds on the AARP Foundation’s Isolation Framework Project and supporting literature, the United Health Foundation said.

Social isolation is associated with poor health status and higher mortality, the authors said.  Factors contributing to it include living alone, difficulty living independently, disability, divorce, separation and widowhood, never having married and poverty, according to the report.

Another key finding of the report is that the national suicide rate among seniors has increased 12% since the 2014 edition. Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah have seen the largest increases. 

Overall, the organization found that the healthiest state for older adults is Utah, followed by Hawaii,  New Hampshire, Minnesota and Colorado. The state with the “most challenges” for older adults is Louisiana, and then Mississippi,  Kentucky, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

A major finding of this year’s report was that rural senior citizens have poorer outcomes compared with their urban and suburban peers. Rural seniors, for instance, are more likely to report a fall (32.4% compared to 28.5% in suburban areas and 29.5% in urban areas) and less likely to report receiving a flu vaccination than urban seniors (57.2% versus 61.4%, respectively), the authors said.

Despite challenges outlined, the Senior Report also revealed national improvements. The number of home healthcare workers has increased 20% since 2013 (per 1,000 adults aged 75 or more years), for instance, and oral health among older adults has improved, with dental visits among seniors significantly increasing and teeth extractions declining since 2016, the authors said.

Data came from several government sources.