Overview: Crisis or Opportunity?
Each day 10,000 people reach the age of 65 in the United States and look forward to retirement. One in four of these older Americans live in a small town or rural area.
A person’s health and quality of life are influenced by a range of factors like affordable housing, reliable transportation, healthy foods, social interaction, and access to healthcare. In rural areas where there is a lack of access to these services, you will find a higher prevalence of chronic disease, higher disability rates, lower prevalence of healthy behaviors, and lower life expectancy. These are interconnected issues that need to be addressed together.
According to AARP, 9 out of 10 Americans over 65 want to age in their homes and communities, but for many of them in rural America, aging in place is not always possible.
Tivity Health is uniquely positioned to bring experts and thought leaders together to create integrated solutions to the complex issues related to rural aging. Our commitment aligns with our core purpose to enable healthy aging in place, and in community. Furthermore, our entire business is dedicated to empowering older adults to live their best lives. Which means that our work in the community is built on our learned expertise and a passionate group of colleagues.
We have an opportunity to help society become more “aging ready” for rural residents. Considering the broad scope of this problem, the passion of one company cannot tackle it alone. We must collaborate with lawmakers and government agencies, advocacy organizations, businesses, academic experts, community leaders, seniors, their families and other stakeholders to find solutions.
Initiatives and Partnerships
Connectivity Summit on Rural Aging: A Catalyst for Change
In collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) AgeLab, the Jefferson College of Population Health, and Health eVillages, Tivity Health presented the inaugural Connectivity Summit on Rural Aging on June 20-21, 2017 in Portsmouth, NH. More than 80 experts from academia, business, government, non-profit and community organizations and healthcare attended the invitation-only summit. Moderated by MIT AgeLab Founder and Director Joe Coughlin, PhD, attendees worked together to identify and prioritize ways to catalyze change in our rural aging population.
In December of the same year Tivity Health released key findings from the summit in the proceedings document published by Population Health Management, “Rural Aging in America: Proceedings of the 2017 Connectivity Summit“, which provides a clear roadmap for creating a movement to transform rural aging.
Rural Opioid Crisis Study with Grantmakers in Aging
Rural aging issues are further complicated by America’s opioid crisis. Last year, Tivity Health sponsored a report published by Grantmakers in Aging called “Heartache, Pain, and Hope: Rural Communities, Older People, and the Opioid Crisis”, exploring the impact of the opioid crisis on the elderly in rural communities.
According to the report, there are approximately 10 million people age 65 and older living in rural America today. While they do not suffer the highest rate of opioid overdose deaths, they certainly are not immune. Among the number of issues older people face, they often experience high rates of chronic pain, which is sometimes treated with opioids. This must be considered when making changes to the regulation and prescribing of opioids, and more alternative treatment options are needed. Private industry and government agencies are taking notice.
Tivity largely serves Medicare Advantage members. One out of three Medicare Part D recipients have been prescribed opioids. Recently Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services proposed changes to the Medicare health & drug programs that include tools to better manage chronic opioid overuse among beneficiaries by ensuring patient-doctor-plan communication.
We are exploring how we may be able to provide one alternative. Tivity has a comprehensive network of acupuncture practitioners, as part of our WholeHealth Living network of complementary and alternative medicine services. These sorts of treatments are showing promise in managing pain, but we need to build awareness of alternatives among patients and providers.
Taking the Movement to Our Nation’s Capital
Another important milestone in the movement occurred when we convened a panel event, “Aging in Rural America: The Growing Crisis, A Movement for Change “, in Washington, D.C. with MIT AgeLab, Jefferson College of Population Health, and Health eVillages, with support from the National Rural Health Association. Academic, business, and healthcare leaders from across the country gathered at the Newseum to bring focus to a new approach to solving the challenges facing those aging in rural communities.
U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who has been active in this issue at the federal level, opened the event as the panel discussed findings from the proceedings document among policymaking communities, thought leaders, and media. They stressed the importance of increasing awareness to build a movement that improves rural aging through collaboration. Together the diverse group has established a commitment to help rural seniors live better, not just longer.
Rural Aging Advisory Council
The Rural Aging Advisory Council was established to gain expertise and support for advancing the rural aging movement. The Council plans to:
- Build national awareness around the key challenges and issues that affect aging adults in rural communities of the U.S.
- Identify opportunities for stakeholders across disciplines and sectors – U.S. policymakers, business, academia, research, industry and trade associations, non-profit groups and government – to create solutions.
- Ensure communication, coordination, collaborative IQ, and sharing of best practices among all stakeholders involved on rural aging at all levels of governance.
They will shape strategy to serve the rural population, assure the Council is connected to entities who can support the movement, and use respective knowledge and expertise to transform services provided. Lastly, the Council will share knowledge and ideas through the Connectivity Summit on Rural Aging that we anticipate will be held annually.