In the U.S., roughly 1 in 5 older adults live in a rural area. In Tennessee, more than 1 in 3 older adults are aging in a rural community. The latest edition of Aging Matters weighs the challenges and rewards of aging in rural America. Aging Matters: In Rural Communities premieres Thursday, July 30, at 8 p.m. on NPT, streaming at video.wnpt.org. Aging Matters: Aging in Place, an earlier program in the series, follows the broadcast premiere at 8:30 p.m.
Also on Thursday, July 30, NPT and FiftyForward will host a pandemic-adjusted preview screening via Facebook from noon to 12:30 p.m. During the virtual screening, people featured in the documentary will be online to offer commentary and answer viewers’ questions.
Aging Matters: In Rural Communities incorporates drone footage to provide a sense of place and a hint of why people are so strongly committed to living in rural areas. As the documentary explains, older adults living in such communities have powerful social networks, but they also face higher levels of poverty, carry a higher burden of chronic disease and live shorter lives overall.
“This topic had been on our radar since one of our first Aging Matters community engagement conversations at the Madison FiftyForward location,” said Will Pedigo, executive producer at NPT and producer of this documentary. “That was back in December 2012 and it has stuck with me since.”
“Through those we serve at our seven lifelong learning centers, and our numerous supportive care programs, we see firsthand that people in more rural communities need help more than ever,” said FiftyForward Executive Director Sallie Hussey. “Sadly, due to declining resources, some providers are being forced to leave small communities. We are thankful to NPT for opening up discussions on critical matters and especially small communities in this edition of Aging Matters.”
Aging Matters: In Rural Communities showcases how residents in Gibson, Haywood, Hickman and Morgan counties have found ways to replace or supplement services that were lost to economic or policy changes. “Suddenly everything seemed to go regional,” says Sandy Spurling in the program. Scott Morgan Community Development, which Spurling runs with Kathy Carroll, serves as a go-between connecting helping residents of Deer Lodge, Tenn., and other areas to resources in Knoxville and other municipalities.
“People will not let you go hungry. They will not let you be cold,” Hickman County librarian Summer Boyd says in the documentary. “You are taken care of; that’s how it is in rural America.” When local resident Sadie Veach mentioned issues with her house, for example, Boyd connected her to Nashville nonprofit Westminster Home Connection.
“Probably the overall biggest issue is that older adults, really all of us, want to stay in our home as long as possible,” Keith Branson of Westminster Home Connection says in the documentary.
Another challenge for rural residents is lack of access to healthcare, especially given that 13 hospitals have closed in rural Tennessee in the last decade. For Haywood County residents, that means getting to neighboring Jackson, Tenn., for emergency room care. “Thirty minutes can make a huge difference,” retired physician Jack Pettigrew says in Aging Matters: In Rural Communities. “You have what they call the ‘golden hour’ of treatment when somebody is in a crisis – and that can be your most important time to save an individual.”
“Healthy communities are built on access to health and wellness resources for all citizens, including the most vulnerable, who often are seniors,” said Kevin Crane, NPT’s president and CEO. “Through this new documentary and our entire Aging Matters project, NPT hopes to shine a light on the challenges and opportunities that seniors face and start a conversation among community stakeholders about the ways in which we can take action to ensure the best possible outcomes for older adults and everyone.”
Additional broadcast times for Aging Matters: In Rural Communities are Monday, Aug. 3, at 8 a.m. and Tuesday, Aug. 4, at 1 p.m., both on NPT2. The documentary will also be available for online viewing at video.wnpt.org.
Note: Production on this documentary began before the pandemic. Once filming resumed, strict safety protocols were followed, including social distancing and the wearing of masks by the crew.
The NPT Reports: Aging Matters series is hosted by Grammy-winning singer and songwriter Kathy Mattea.
Aging Matters: In Rural Communities is made possible by the generous support of the West End Home Foundation, the Jeanette Travis Foundation, The HCA Healthcare Foundation and Cigna-HealthSpring. Additional support was provided by the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee and Jackson National Life Insurance Company.