Overview: Crisis or Opportunity?

Every day, 11,000 Americans reach age 65, and nearly one in four of them live in a rural area. Because of where these individuals live, they face challenges such as access to quality health care, robust social networks, healthy food and a number of other needs. In these under-served rural areas, there is often 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 comprehensively.

In 2017, Tivity Health® launched a national campaign and commitment to dedicate time, resources and energy to better understand the challenges and opportunities facing those who are grower older in rural America. Tivity Health is uniquely positioned to lead this campaign, as one of the only businesses with scalable initiatives to promote physical health, combat loneliness through social connectivity, and address food insecurity and other nutrition needs. 4 out of 5 rural seniors are eligible for Tivity Health’s flagship program SilverSneakers®, the nation’s leading community fitness program designed specifically for seniors.

In addition, Tivity Health is actively engaged with a network of stakeholders including policy experts, health plans, businesses, medical professionals and others to identify issues, comprehensive solutions, and opportunities for collaboration.

Our commitment aligns with our core purpose to transform healthy living for adults. Furthermore, our entire business is dedicated to empowering and engaging adults, including seniors to live their best healthy lives through nutrition, fitness and social connection. 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 improve the aging experience for rural older adults, helping them to experience Considering the broad scope of this problem, the passion of one company cannot tackle it alone. We must collaborate with policy makers and government agencies, advocacy organizations, businesses, academic experts, community leaders, seniors, their families and other stakeholders to find solutions. Below, read more about some of our initiatives and opportunities to get involved in the movement.

Annual Connectivity Summit on Rural Aging

Every year, Tivity Health hosts the annual Connectivity Summit on Rural Aging, bringing together some of the nation’s leading experts in diverse fields of expertise on issues related to rural aging. Anchored in our commitment to a collaborative  approach to addressing social isolation and loneliness,  and other social determinants of health, the Summit focuses on bringing stakeholders together, bridging the gaps, and adopting a collective approach to prioritizing the key issues, actions, and programming that will make an impact on the millions of older Americans living in rural areas. In addition to Tivity Health, the Connectivity Summit is presented in partnership with Health eVillages, the MIT AgeLab, and the Jefferson College of Population Health.

In August 2019, the 3rd Connectivity Summit on Rural Aging focused on “Demystifying Social Determinants of Health to Promote Healthier Aging in the 21st Century.” The Summit was held in Nashville for the first time to address social determinants of health, or the economic and social conditions that influence individual and group health disparities. This movement is part of our broader campaign to tackle social isolation and improve the health and well-being of older Americans, especially those who live in rural areas.

The Summit featured several prominent speakers from public and private sectors including Senator William Frist, M.D., award-winning journalist Katie Couric, Joseph Coughlin, Ph.D., director of the MIT AgeLab, David Nash, M.D., Founding Dean Emeritus, Jefferson College of Population Health, and more than 200 leaders from business, academia, government, non-profit, community and healthcare backgrounds.

Addressing Social Determinants of Health

In May 2019, Tivity Health worked with the Healthcare Leadership Council and Aetna to convene a roundtable of nearly 80 national experts and healthcare leaders in Washington, D.C. to identify the core challenges and opportunities on social determinants of health. The roundtable resulted in a published white paper in July 2019: Determined to Reduce Disparities: Solutions to Address Social Determinants of Health. The paper identifies 4 keys to success around social determinants of health:

  1. Coordinating healthcare and social services outreach
  2. Bridging incentives across health services
  3. Integrating the voice of patients
  4. Improving data strategies

Polling on Social Isolation & Rural Senior Health

In 2018, a national poll commissioned by Tivity Health and conducted by Public Opinion Strategies provided new insights on aging issues and social isolation for seniors living in rural communities. The poll shows that a majority of rural seniors are dealing with multiple health conditions.

One-third (29%) do not have social interaction on a daily basis, and many rural seniors are dealing with physical impairments such as vision loss (39%), hearing loss (36%), and loss of mobility (23%). The poll found that seniors living in rural areas (64%) feel social isolation has a negative impact on physical health. Additionally, the poll indicated that over a majority (66%) of rural seniors want public officials in their states and the business community (67%) to do more to address their needs.

A summary of the polling results can be found here, as well as a key findings of the results.

Bipartisan Policy Center Roundtable on Social Isolation

In June 2018, Tivity Health joined the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C. to convene a roundtable discussion titled, “Rural Aging: Health and Community Policy Implications for Reversing Social Isolation.” The roundtable was co-chaired by Tivity Health CEO Donato Tramuto and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and included more than two dozen policy experts and thought leaders from rural health, aging, non-profit, and business to identify priority issues for reversing social isolation.

The roundtable tackled one of the most urgent crises impacting aging adults in rural America: social isolation and loneliness. Approximately one-third of people older than age 65 live alone, and more than one in four older adults in the U.S. are affected by social isolation and loneliness.

The roundtable was the catalyst for a white paper, published in July 2018: Rural Aging: Health and Community Policy Implications for Reversing Social Isolation. The report served as a platform for the 2018 Connectivity Summit on Rural Aging with the goal of generating action-oriented recommendations for policymakers at all levels of governance.

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 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.

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.

Council members will shape strategy to address social isolation and social determinants of health, with a focus on the rural aging population. Members are connected to entities who can support the movement to help older adults live healthier and longer, and leverage 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.