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Thursday, August 06 2015 16:34
  • “The White House Conference on Aging.” Probably most Americans have never heard of this event. Not even those who have hit their 60s and continued beyond.
  • But starting in 1961, and continuing in four successive decades, the federal government has brought elders to Washington, welcoming them and listening to their needs and concerns. The next one will take place this July.
    What makes this year’s event different from the others is that citizens will not come in a body to Washington. Why? Because, this year, the feds say they do not have enough money for this purpose.
    However, the government says it will take the steps necessary for elders around the nation to make their views known. It will bring elders together in five states to hear the most important needs for the older population.
    In fact, Boston will be the site for one of the five regional forums. This local gathering will take place May 28. Citizens are urged to send comments to those who are organizing the local level.
    However, the state’s Office of Elder Affairs seems to know little or nothing about this event. Nor do the home care agencies that are so important in providing services.
    “We want to hear your stories and thoughts about the issues and actions that are most important to you,” said the conference office.
    Among the devices the leaders are using are “webinars.” I don’t even know what these are. (My wife does, and says they can be excruciating.) And I don’t welcome jargon that excludes many elders.
    Nonetheless, while writing this column I enrolled in the conference. All you need do is to send your email address to the site of the White House Conference on Aging.
    A federal employee, Nora Super, has responsibility for bringing together the work of the council. At a recent gathering of the American Society on Aging, I heard her describe the progress made so far.
    She said the White House is deeply interested in the council. But, like other journalists, I regret it will be so different from the sessions held in previous years. These memorable sessions bore witness to such historically important programs as Medicare and Medicaid, as well as the Older Americans Act.
    Those three developments, of great importance to the older people of this country, are celebrating their 50th anniversary. (And Social Security is hailing its 80th.)
    Still, here are some of the issues now considered of serious importance for the older people of our country. These, at least, were some views of Nora Super and several panelists familiar with needs of elders.
    First, retirement security, which would do something about the huge number of retirees who lack access to employers directed plans. These people are not saving enough to support their fiscal needs.
    • Second, healthy aging that would focus on physical activity.
      Third, civic engagement which, among other things, might, for instance, make more elders join the Peace Corps, something they tend not to do now.
      Fourth, elder justice, which would protect older people from being preyed upon by dishonest family members or other attackers.
      Despite the significance of these issues, I did not feel encouraged about the forthcoming national council. I have also heard that some other journalists have been ignored by the organizers.
      However, the Massachusetts Gerontology Association, with which I was once closely involved, is having an important meeting on the subject, scheduled for May 1.
      In sum, this year’s White House event would seem far removed from the time when Claude Pepper and other farseeing legislators did so much for the elders of their time and those of today. I regret that this year’s White House project seem to have excluded those most interested and concerned about elder well-being.