Aging in America: A New Frontier
More than 45 million Americans age 65 and older live today in the United States, and each day more than 10,000 Americans turn 65. What’s more, one in four older adults also now lives in a rural part of the United States.
The United States also faces a mounting public health epidemic of social isolation and loneliness, which has been shown to increase the risk of mortality and other risk factors such as mobility loss, functional decline, and clinical dementia. Research shows the effects of social isolation and loneliness in older adults is growing in this country. Loneliness affects as many as 43 percent of older adults, and social isolation increases a person’s mortality by as much as 50 percent—equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes per day.
The good news is we are learning that many of the most complex and pressing public health challenges can be tied to the conditions in which people live, work, and age – also known as the social determinants of health. These social determinants of health, if not addressed, can have a profound effect on one’s ability to achieve optimal health.
Its particularly prominent in rural communities, for example, who often face barriers to accessing quality healthcare, robust social networks, healthy food, opportunities for physical activity, and public transportation, among many other critical needs that directly impact their physical, mental, and emotional health.
The Movement to Transform Rural Aging & Build Social Connections
To respond to these complex public health matters, Tivity Health led a national movement from 2017-2019 to improve the health and well-being of older Americans, no matter where they live in the United States – particularly for those living in more rural, remote, and often underserved communities. Led in collaboration with a Rural Aging Advisory Council, the initiative seeks to drive not only awareness of these issues – but, more importantly – action, collaboration, and initiatives that will make a real difference in the lives of older Americans.
From 2017-2019, Tivity Health sponsored and hosted a Connectivity Summit on Rural Aging, convening hundreds of diverse stakeholders at the local, state, and national levels to consider new opportunities for working together to address social isolation and improve the well-being of seniors, whether rural or urban-dwelling. The Summits prompted national call-to-actions to reduce social isolation and loneliness in the United States, particularly among one of our most vulnerable populations: America’s seniors.
The initiative supported Tivity Health’s core objectives of transforming healthy living for older adults and empowering seniors and all Americans to live their best healthy lives through improved fitness and physical activity, better social engagement and connections, and stronger food security and nutrition.
- Stay Up to Date: Click here to join our monthly newsletter, including recent news, milestones, and current/upcoming events related to rural aging and isolation. You can also learn more about the campaign to improve rural aging and reduce social isolation and loneliness by visiting RuralAge.com.
- The Annual Connectivity Summit: Tivity Health previously hosted a 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, among other social determinants of health, the Summit focused on 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, Tivity Health convened more than 220 national and community leaders for the 3rd Connectivity Summit on Rural Aging focusing on “Demystifying Social Determinants of Health to Promote Healthier Aging in the 21st Century.” The Summit explored the tremendous impact these social determinants of health – or the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age – have on a person’s health, and featured 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 other respected leaders from business, academia, government, non-profit, community and healthcare.
- Rural Aging Advisory Council: The Rural Aging Advisory Council was established to convene expertise and support for advancing the rural aging movement. The Council is actively:
- Building national awareness around the key challenges and issues that affect aging adults in rural communities of the U.S.
- Identifying opportunities for stakeholders across disciplines and sectors – U.S. policymakers, business, academia, research, industry and trade associations, non-profit groups and government – to drive positive solutions, programs, and public policy changes.
- Ensuring communication, coordination, collaborative IQ, and sharing of best practices among all stakeholders involved in rural aging at all levels of governance.
- Shaping strategy to address social isolation and social determinants of health, with a focus on the rural aging population. Click here to see the list of suggested policy ideas and letters sent to Capitol Hill and federal agencies.
- Drive buy-in and connections with outside entities who can support the movement to help older adults live healthier and longer, and leverage expertise to transform services provided.
- Important Resources:
- A report, “Leveraging the Power of Connection” offers new insights and recommendations on how to improve the health of aging Americans, as derived from the third annual Connectivity Summit on Rural Aging held in August 2019. The report offers eight recommendations for tackling various social determinants of health and calls on leveraging consumer-facing organizations, private companies, and the public sector to explore what can be done to reduce loneliness, improve health and promote greater social connectivity among older adults in the United States.
- Aging Well in Rural America: A Collection of Stories from the Heartland: A publication of nearly two dozen community leaders who are leading innovation and positive change at the community level to improve care and address social isolation for older adults.
- Solutions to Address 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 four 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; and (4) Improving data strategies.
- 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 former Tivity Health CEO Donato Tramuto, former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, and included more than two dozen policy experts and thought leaders to identify priority issues for reversing social isolation. The roundtable produced a white paper, published in July 2018: Rural Aging: Health and Community Policy Implications for Reversing Social Isolation.
- 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 revealed 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 key findings.
- Taking the Movement to Our Nation’s Capital: To help improve national attention on rural aging, Tivity Health convened a panel event, “Aging in Rural America: The Growing Crisis, A Movement for Change,” in Washington, D.C., with the support of the National Rural Health Association, MIT AgeLab, Jefferson College of Population Health, and Health eVillages. U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who has been actively advocating for rural health and elderly care issues at the federal level, opened the event as the panel stressed the importance of increasing awareness to build a movement that improves rural aging through collaboration and 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. In 2017 Tivity Health sponsored a report published by Grantmakers In Aging titled, “Heartache, Pain, and Hope: Rural Communities, Older People, and the Opioid Crisis.” According to the report, while older Americans do not necessarily suffer the highest rates of opioid overdose deaths, they are not immune to the impact of the crisis – as a population that experiences high rates of chronic pain as well as one that increasingly serves as caretakers to adult children who may be struggling with opioid addiction.