Healthy Aging in Massachusetts: Where Do We Go From Here?

Tufts Health Plan Foundation and Massachusetts Health Policy Forum Team to Present Third Conference on Healthy Aging

NEWTON, MA – December 10, 2012 – More than 300 Massachusetts government and business leaders, policy makers, community advocates, and health and wellness providers convened today at the third Tufts Health Plan Foundation conference on healthy aging. Held at the Boston Marriott Newton in partnership with the Massachusetts Health Policy Forum, the conference – Healthy Aging in Massachusetts: Where Do We Go from Here? – focused on strategies for coordinating and expanding programs in the Commonwealth to help older adults remain healthy, vibrant and contributing members of their community.

The conference, which featured New York Times bestselling author Dan Buettner and the launch of a new Healthy Aging Status Report Card for Massachusetts, also included a notable presentation from Ann Hartstein, Secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs (EOEA). Panel discussions brought together many of the state’s top influencers in healthy aging, including Senator Patricia Jehlen, chair of the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Elder Affairs; Lea Susan Ojamaa from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH); David Stevens, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of Councils on Aging; and Emily Shea, commissioner of Elderly Affairs, City of Boston.

In addition, a poster session highlighting 36 organizations doing healthy aging work across Massachusetts allowed many of the state’s hospitals, universities and non-profits to learn from each other and interact with decision-makers.

“We are proud to facilitate such important work and conversation to advance the cause of healthy aging,” said James Roosevelt Jr., president and CEO of Tufts Health Plan. “By bringing together many of the Commonwealth’s top leaders in aging and elder affairs along with notable visionaries like Dan Buettner, our third annual Healthy Aging conference promises to both inspire and fuel continued progress in the field.”

Defining a Model for Healthy Aging: Lessons for Living Healthier, More Satisfying Lives
Helping to set the stage for that healthy aging conversation was keynote speaker Dan Buettner, National Geographic fellow and noted author of The New York Times bestseller, The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest. According to Buettner, “Only about 20 percent of how long the average person lives is dictated by our genes. The other 80 percent is based on our lifestyle. Our research has found that the real secrets to longevity are many of the same habits the Healthy Aging conference is promoting. One critical example is for older adults to know their purpose. By having a reason to wake up in the morning – whether it’s faith, friendship, family, volunteer work, or a favorite hobby – older adults are more likely to live a longer, healthier life.”

Presentations by Secretary Hartstein and Walter Leutz, associate professor at the Heller School of Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, underscored this vision of healthy aging. According to Hartstein, healthy aging begins at birth. Hartstein spoke to nine “Aging Agenda” principles – including a healthy diet, exercise, education, employment skills, planning and saving for future healthcare, housing and transportation, and ongoing civic engagement – and explained that if we acquire more of these skills early in life’s journey, we will lead healthier, more satisfying lives later.

Leutz concurred as he explained that “health is a multi-dimensional construct that recognizes that even people with chronic illnesses and disabilities can feel and be seen by others as ‘healthy.’ This model of healthy aging posits that communities can and should support residents to achieve this vision of healthy aging and that older adults can be a part of that effort.”

“I truly appreciate the commitment to focus on efforts to define and promote healthy aging,” said Senator Jehlen. “By working from the premise that the aging process begins when we are born, not simply when we turn 65 or 70, we must be conscious of our health throughout our lifetime.”

Breaking New Ground: Healthy Aging Status Report Card
In a presentation by Elizabeth Dugan, associate professor at the McCormack Graduate School at UMass Boston, today’s conference unveiled the newest initiative in the mission to make Massachusetts a leader in healthy aging: the Healthy Aging Status Report Card. The report card, funded by the Tufts Health Plan Foundation with research conducted by Dugan and her team at the UMass Boston Gerontology Institute, will break new ground by determining the state of healthy aging in Massachusetts and identifying gaps by region – for example, a higher incidence of diabetes in one community or limited access to primary care in another.

Working Together: A Massachusetts Healthy Aging Collaborative
In the past three years, the movement to promote healthy aging in Massachusetts has found a formula to create and maintain progress. The ingredients include the energy, commitment and expertise of many agencies and individuals across the state; leadership and collaboration by EOEA and DPH; success in obtaining federal funds for evidence-based programs and community initiatives; and convening interested parties by the Massachusetts Health Policy Forum, with funding for communications, meetings and healthy aging programs from the Tufts Health Plan Foundation.

The ongoing effort to advance an action plan for healthy aging in Massachusetts is a true collaborative effort among the Commonwealth’s healthy aging leaders. This Collaborative has focused on three critical areas: first, to build and maintain an economically sustainable statewide infrastructure of evidence-based programs; second, to coordinate the broader range of often disparate healthy aging related programs in communities; and third, to develop a public awareness campaign aimed at a more positive image of aging.

“Our goal with the annual Healthy Aging conference and the work of our Healthy Aging Collaborative is to not only engage older adults in all aspects of a healthy aging strategy but to also build healthy aging into the fabric of our communities,” said David Abelman, president of the Tufts Health Plan Foundation. “To be successful, we need a comprehensive network of healthy aging programs across the state combined with public awareness initiatives so that adults of all ages know what’s available to them and are empowered to take advantage of these community services. It is by working together that we will be able to truly make a difference in the lives of older adults.”

Philip W. Johnston, chair of the Massachusetts Health Policy Forum, explained that the issue of healthy aging has become a top priority of the Massachusetts Health Policy Forum. “It fits perfectly with the Forum’s mission of improving health outcomes and the delivery of services within the health care system in Massachusetts,” he said.

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