“Life, liberty, and happiness for the heartland of America.”
-Senator Charles Grassley
When we think about the identity of America, it’s impossible to overlook the profound influence of rural culture. The great swaths of farmland, small towns, and the people who live in them, have played a huge role in the economy, politics, art, and mores of our nation, and its in these rural areas that some of our most cherished traditions were born. However, the rise of globalization, a changing economic landscape, migration to major cities, and other factors have combined to create the crisis currently facing rural communities, and particularly the aging Americans who live in them. Nearly 10,000 people per day turn 65 in the United States and approximately 25% of Americans older than age 65 live in a small town or rural area. In these rural areas, we see higher rates of chronic diseases and disability, a lower prevalence of healthy behavior, and a widening gap in life expectancy. Recently, aging experts, health professionals, politicians, and advocates convened to discuss some of the challenges facing this population. At the event sponsored by Tivity Health, “Aging in Rural America: A Movement for Change,” we convened to learn more about the issues — ageism, social isolation, and lack of sufficient resources to become involved in their communities — facing older Americans in rural areas, and to discuss solutions.
The event started with powerful opening remarks from Senator Charles (Chuck) Grassley, who shared how his experience of growing up in small-town Iowa, working on a farm, shaped his identity, and why the rural aging challenge is both personally and politically important. From that small town, Grassley went on to a long and successful political career, but never left behind his values. Values like perseverance and commitment, which are evident in everything from his personal fitness regimen — at 84 years old Senator Grassley runs 3 miles every morning — to his sustained dedication to serving rural America. His career has also been characterized by humility — he responds to every communication from his fellow Iowans, whether through handwritten letters or technology. Along with these core values, as the first non-lawyer to serve as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Grassley brings a fresh perspective to this important role, and he recognizes the need for bipartisan collaboration to create fair and just policy.
Alan Morgan, National Rural Health Association, Dr. David Nash, Jefferson Medical College, Dr. Joe Coughlin, MIT Aging Lab, Senator Grassley, Donato Tramuto, Tivity Health
With his remarks, Senator Grassley set a balanced tone for the day — aspirational but pragmatic — and modeled both compassion and a willingness to get down to the work of creating real change. He reminded the audience that the desire to age with dignity is universal, saying, “Like so many Americans, I want to celebrate as many birthdays as I can with loved ones… and there is something even more valuable than longevity, and that is the quality of life that we live.” He called on the summit’s attendees to join him in making this issue a legislative priority, and shared a vision for a more just and inclusive model, in which “no one is left behind just because they live in rural America, particularly in the 21st century, and that no one is left out of the 21st century service just because of what their zip code is.”
Over the course of this important meeting, we explored the challenges of rural aging from every angle, discussing solutions from the political level down to the personal. We left Washington, DC even more energized to take action and feeling convinced that each one of us can make a difference. This can be a simple as reaching out to elderly relatives, friends, or even a stranger on the street. Let’s remember that we all need to feel connected to others, and pause to consider whether there is someone in our lives who, due to age or where they live, might be feeling lonely or isolated. A small gesture of care — writing a letter, giving him or her a call, or spending just a little more time chatting when you see that person — can help move us toward being a country and world where no one feels left out. At the Flawless Foundation, we envision a world where everyone is embraced by society, which is why the message of inclusivity shared by Senator Grassley and echoed throughout the summit resonated with us so deeply. Let’s each do our part to create a world where beauty and acceptance have no age limits; where the older you are, the more honored you are, and the more flawless you feel.
Click the video below to learn more about this inspiring event.