How seniors can beat “diseases” like loneliness and social isolation

Bruce BroussardIn a series of LinkedIn Influencer blog posts, Humana President and CEO Bruce Broussard shares insights and ideas about the future of health care and discusses the importance of working together to improve the health-care system as well as our own health and well-being. His latest — How seniors can beat “diseases” like loneliness and social isolation — is reprinted below. To see all of his blog posts, click here.

Tivity Health, Inc. (NASQ: TVTY) Chief Executive Officer Donato J. Tramuto and I recently teamed up to draft the following blog post.

Health is personal. You might tell yourself that you alone have the power to make the lifestyle changes to eat better, exercise or meditate.

But getting healthy doesn’t have to be a solo act, because many of us face the same challenges. Individual resolve is important, but momentum is best maintained when we have a friend to encourage us to stay the course.

For many of us with active lives, it’s easy to find people like ourselves, whether it’s at work or through a social activity. But if you’re a senior who is lonely or socially isolated, it’s not easy to find encouragement and change your health.

Seniors face many health challenges that are not just medical

American seniors face significant health challenges. Many of them are living with multiple chronic conditions they may have for the rest of their lives, from diabetes to congestive heart failure. They may be on a fixed income, struggling to pay for prescription drugs.

Despite these challenges, there is also positive momentum in aging. Advances in science are helping America’s seniors live longer and stay active. For example, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention say life expectancy in the U.S. is 78.8 years, and that could rise.

While seniors are living longer, there are other issues that can affect their health. For example, take the impact of loneliness on seniors. One study found that “loneliness has an equivalent risk factor to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, shortening one’s lifespan by eight years.” Research has also shown that social isolation can limit a senior’s ability to improve their health. For example, “6 million adults 65 and older have a disability that prevents them from leaving their homes without help.”

Living with chronic conditions is hard enough. When a senior does not have a support network of friends and family – people to socialize with and share common interests – the will to improve one’s health can be compromised.

As the leaders of Humana and Tivity Health, we’ve had decades of experience helping the senior community. We’ve found that the secret to improving their health is simplicity. It starts by offering them a platform to engage in activities that not only make them healthier, but help them connect with others.

Bringing people together helps improve health

At Humana, we’re helping more than 3.3 million Medicare Advantage members nationwide age with optimism, an approach that goes beyond conventional clinical treatments. Many of our members are living with chronic conditions, but they are more active than previous generations. For Tivity Health, which manages SilverSneakers®, we’re helping millions of people age into Medicare.

Our experience has taught us that social engagement leads to sustainable change. SilverSneakers® memberships, available through countless Medicare Advantage programs, give seniors access to a nationwide network of physical locations, as well as community centers, parks and social locations, where they can meet other people and engage in fitness classes specifically designed for their demographic. One survey found that “49% of active members said they were motivated to continue exercising because they had a friend in the program.”

And it’s more than just walking. SilverSneakers offers a wide variety of exercises and intensity levels, from dance classes to yoga sessions, as well as conventional cardio and weight-focused classes. SilverSneakers has entered into partnerships with more than 14,000 fitness locations nationwide as well as at Humana Guidance Centers. At Humana, SilverSneakers is included at no additional cost to the 3.3 million Humana MA members across the country.

SilverSneakers is a key element of many Humana Medicare Advantage plans because the proactive program takes a holistic approach to capture the senior’s complete health, not just the clinical.

In MA, we take a coordinated care approach, working side-by-side with providers who are in value-based reimbursement models with Humana. That means these providers are reimbursed for the health outcomes of our members (their patients), not just the services they provide. Programs like SilverSneakers perfectly align with the health-focused nature of Medicare Advantage.

Let’s learn from common purpose

The resolve to improve one’s health starts from within, but success requires perseverance and encouragement from friends and others who share the goals. Today, millions of seniors are not getting that support because they are socially isolated or lonely, and this has had a significant impact on their health.

Helping these seniors improve their health and well-being does not always have to start with a prescription or a visit to the doctor. Platforms such as SilverSneakers, supported through Medicare Advantage programs that emphasize health outcomes, can give seniors the social support they need and connect them with others who share a common purpose. This camaraderie ensures that seniors are not alone in their health journey.

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