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.

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 building a “collaborative IQ” approach to rural aging, the Summit focuses on helping stakeholders break out of their silos, bridge the gaps, and adopt 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 sponsored in collaboration with Health eVillages, the MIT AgeLab, and the Jefferson College of Population Health.

In August 2018, the 2nd Connectivity Summit on Rural Aging tackled the issue of “Reversing Social Isolation,” and featured prominent speakers from public and private sectors including U.S. Congressman Joe Kennedy III; Dr. Cara James, Director of the Office of Minority Health at CMS and co-chair of the CMS Rural Health Council; and more than 150 leaders from business, academia, government, non-profit community and healthcare backgrounds.

To find the results from this year’s Summit, please see the recently released report, The Power of Connection, “Reversing Social Isolation in Rural America”, outlining four distinct ways to catalyze change and put this 21st century public health epidemic at the top of the national agenda.

Polling on Social Isolation & Rural Senior Health

Underpinning the 2018 Connectivity Summit on Rural Aging is a new national poll commissioned by Tivity Health and conducted by Public Opinion Strategies that provides 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. An 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.

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.