FILE - NJ senior citizen

An elderly woman takes a stroll to the shoreline at sunset in Cape May, New Jersey

(The Center Square) – Death from drug-related causes among New Jersey residents age 65 and older increased from 4.7 to 10.5 per 100,000 from 2017 to 2019, according to a report on the health of the nation’s senior citizens.

The numbers come from America’s Health Rankings, a report from the United Health Foundation and the Gerontological Advanced Practices Nurses Association. Researchers evaluated physical environmental factors, clinical care, behaviors, health outcomes and social and economic factors.

New Jersey also ranked at the bottom for the number of adults over the age of 62 with severe housing problems, which factors in a lack of complete kitchen facilities, lack of plumbing facilities and overcrowding or cost-burdened occupants.

Some of the challenges for the state include frequent mental distress and physical inactivity. The state ranked 20th in the social and economic factor category that includes nutrition and physical activity, sleep and tobacco use.

Those numbers are likely to be higher in 2020 when New Jersey residents were under stay-at-home orders.

“According to a recent American Psychological Association survey of more than 3,000 people, 61% of U.S. adults report undesired weight changes since the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Dr. Rhonda Randall, executive vice president and chief medical officer of UnitedHealthcare Employer and Individual. “Two in 5 of those surveyed gained more weight than they intended over the last year, at an average of 29 lbs. per person.”

New Jersey was lauded for its low suicide rate, low smoking rate and its low prevalence of frequent physical distress.

Another factor in senior health is internet connectivity, which increased 9% between the years of 2016 and 2019.

“Many activities and services are increasingly dependent upon the internet such as health care via telemedicine and telehealth, which have become increasingly common during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Randall said. “Internet access also provides an avenue for social connectedness. Some studies have found that technology such as smartphones and social networking sites may help combat loneliness among older adults. Specifically, internet use in older adults is associated with decreased loneliness and more social contact.”

New Jersey officials plan to use some of $190 million awarded to the state from the federal American Rescue Plan to expand broadband into underserved rural and urban areas.