Seniors on Medicare have continued concerns over mental health coverage and costs

By , Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer

Nearly a third of seniors on Medicare reported that the cost of care is getting in the way of their mental health, and many are experiencing loneliness, according to our latest national polling.

When we compared these results to a national poll we conducted in 2021, we found that a consistent number of seniors on Medicare said they experienced loneliness, social isolation, and concerns about their mental health, but worries about the cost of care are on the rise.

People with Medicare Part D insurance have historically faced high costs for their prescription medications, with no limit to what they pay out of pocket. Though an annual limit was signed into law in August 2022, the new $2,000 cap won’t take effect until 2025 and may still pose challenges to older adults with lower incomes.

Seniors are experiencing feelings of isolation and loneliness

Nearly a quarter of all seniors say that they’ve felt isolated and lonely in the last year. The prevalence is even higher for those who are living with cancer or a chronic illness, and for those who have been diagnosed with a mental health condition.

22% of all seniors say they have experienced feelings of isolation and loneliness during the last year.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), older adults are more likely to feel loneliness and isolation as they age because they are more likely to live alone, experience the loss of loved ones, and have health conditions. The CDC also reports that social isolation and loneliness can lead to other unfavorable health conditions, like an increased risk of dementia, heart disease, depression, and anxiety.

Causes of loneliness and isolation

Though some people have started to resume pre-pandemic lifestyles, for many—especially older adults with chronic conditions—caution and concerns persist. Some of the seniors polled reported that their loneliness had gotten worse throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Among seniors who experienced loneliness and isolation, the frequency and impact of these feelings was highest among those who either have a mental health diagnosis or are living with a chronic condition.

48% of seniors with cancer or a chronic illness report feelings of loneliness and isolation once a week or more in the past year.

61% of seniors with a mental health condition report feelings of isolation and loneliness once a week or more in the past year.

73% of seniors with a mental health condition say experiencing loneliness and isolation significantly impacts their mental health.

A lack of friends, living alone, and a lack of family members to connect with were the top three causes of loneliness among seniors polled. In addition, 16 percent of seniors reported that a lack of transportation was a contributing cause of loneliness.

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High level of trust in family members and primary care physicians

The good news is that our polling found that nearly two-thirds of seniors reported that they were comfortable seeking treatment for their mental health. They also reported high levels of comfort seeking out information from trusted sources.

Percent of seniors with some or a lot of trust in information from:

And regardless of their diagnosis, seniors are looking to connect. Three out of four seniors said regularly talking to a friend or companion would help them feel socially connected. About 60 percent also said that they would find one-on-one therapy helpful.

More than half of seniors also said that referrals to resources would be helpful. PAN partners with several organizations that provide mental health services or that can connect patients with disease-specific support. Learn more about PAN’s alliance partners.

What’s next for mental health support

Our latest polling confirms that older adults continue to experience high rates of loneliness and social isolation, particularly those who are living with a chronic condition or cancer. The PAN Foundation continues to advocate for Medicare reforms that will expand coverage of key mental health services, as well as telehealth coverage that will increase access for all seniors across the U.S.

Mental health services and medications must be accessible to all.

Until these long-term solutions are realized, we recommend that older adults speak to their healthcare providers and take advantage of support organizations, or share them with loved ones who may benefit. For those who have older adults in their lives, we also recommend giving them a call.

Other mental health resources