What do seniors need? White House wants to know [Senior Circles]

As a follow up to Senior Circles, July 9, "Policy decisions on aging issues are coming up," I attended the live streaming of the White House Conference on Aging at a Watch Party July 13 at the North Laurel 50+ Center.

After the center session ended at 1 p.m., I watched the rest of the conference at home on my computer until its end at 5 p.m. I learned about ideas that have led and will lead to future improvements in programs for older Americans but I can only hit some of the highlights here. For more specifics, go to or Google WHCOA.


President Barack Obama hosted the conference at the White House, with 600 sites around the country, where older adults listened in, such as they did at the Howard County senior centers of Bain, East Columbia, Ellicott City and North Laurel.

Nora Super, executive director of the WHCOA, recognized that getting to the conference was a yearlong effort, listening, learning and engaging people throughout the country on what older Americans need and want. The government plans to spend $35.7 million on the geriatric workforce, training them to bring access to quality care and self-management to older adults.

She stressed that Congress needs to reauthorize the Older Americans Act and that Medicare needs to move from quantity of sources to quality of care. Super believes the WHCOA should not just be a day but a movement; she wants the dialog on aging to continue.

Secretary Sylvia Burwell, Department of Health and Human Services, reported a startling statistic — 10,000 people turn age 65 each day. This is the fastest growing demographic in our population. Burwell wants to see the focus on aging change from "limitations" to "possibilities." She said that all generations should connect on the subject of aging.

During President Obama's remarks, he recognized a former member of Congress, John Dingell, 89, who was in the audience. Obama said that Dingell was elected to Congress when he was just age 29, calling him an overachiever. Dingell presided over the House chamber for the vote to pass Medicare into law — an achievement for which he and his father can take some credit.

Obama said, "He's been a retiree for six months, but he's keeping busy — just check out his Twitter feed if you don't believe me. "

Since the WHCOA is held once a decade, the President said that we "have to make it count." We have to work to keep the resources and supports seniors need. His goal is to provide more services that seniors need and not those they don't need. He is looking at stronger consumer protection rules to make sure that financial advisors don't take advantage of older adults. He is looking at retirement savings programs because about one third of workers don't have access to a workplace retirement. He is working on the first overhaul of nursing homes in 25 years. He believes in workplace flexibility for caregivers, in fact for all workers, saying that it is good for employers as well as employees. He believes that one of the best measures of a country is how it treats its older citizens.

Julian Castro, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, said that the number one amenity seniors want most is a bus stop because it is important to them to keep their mobility and independence.

At the end of the session at North Laurel, I talked to an attendee, Constance Lightfoot, of North Laurel, a retiree from the American Cancer Society.

Earlier in her career, she had worked for PPG and when she left the company, she decided not to touch her stock. She was happy to hear from one of the speakers that she had made the right and best choice for her — to leave the stocks in place. When asked about the WHCOA, she said that the financial information provided was the most important part to her. Constance is in good health. Nutrition and exercise are important to her. She works hard to be engaged with people and activities, and to avoid isolation. She loves theater and goes to plays in Baltimore and Washington. She said she definitely wants to "age in place."

In his closing remarks, Tom Perez, Secretary of Labor, cited Maryland Women's Basketball head coach, Brenda Frese's quote, "Age is a state of mind." As an example, he mentioned Lillian Carter, mother of former President Jimmy Carter, who entered the Peace Corps at age 68 and worked in India. Perez wants older Americans to thrive longer, have access to opportunity and be engaged, not isolated.