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What’s on Tap at the White House Aging Conference

The event will be smaller than usual but available to all online


After much speculation on whether, when and how the White House Conference on Aging (WHCOA) would take place,  details on the July 13 event are finally starting to emerge.

It will be an invitation-only affair at the White House for up to 200 people, more like a small-group summit than the multi-day conferences with hundreds of delegates that have marked previous once-a-decade gatherings since 1961. That said, the Obama Administration will be webcasting the day’s events, encouraging “watch parties” and providing multiple ways to engage online — as it has for previous events tied to the conference.

Though smaller in scale this year, the fact that there is a conference at all (considering that  Congress allocated none of the $3 million requested for the project) is a credit to Nora Super, executive director of the WHCOA, and those at the White House and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services who are driving the project. Lacking  funding or authorization under the Older Americans Act, Super reached out to organizations like AARP and the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations to sponsor or organize the more than 50 pre-conference forums, webinars and listening sessions the WHCOA has participated in this year.

What’s Planned

The July 13 conference will be a culmination of these events and a sort-of greatest hits from the five regional forums the WHCOA has hosted since February.  While the day’s agenda is still in the works, Super shared with Next Avenue some of what has been planned so far:

  • President Obama will deliver the keynote address, “talking primarily about a vision for aging in the next decade,” Super said.
  • Department of Labor Secretary Tom Perez will talk about ways to enhance financial security at all ages.
  • Caregiving will be a prominent theme, and actor David Hyde Pierce has been invited to share his experience caring for a father with Alzheimer’s.
  • Expect a focus on intergenerational connections, Super says, with mayors and Surgeon General  Vivek Murthy “showing the power of working across generations and how it contributes to healthy aging.”
  • The conference will address elder justice, highlighting efforts by law enforcement and the banking community to identify and prevent financial abuse of older adults. The panel will also explore the idea of having financial caregivers as well as health caregivers, Super said.
  • There will be a discussion of technology and the future of aging. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Domestic Policy Council posted a call for ideas to ’empower older Americans through technology and innovation, and some of those ideas will be presented.
  • Nutrition is on the agenda and, working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, conference organizers are looking for “a fun way to talk about healthy eating.”
  • There also will be a discussion of how Americans talk and think about aging and how that can change for the better.

“I think it will really be an interesting, fun day with a mix of celebrities and cabinet secretaries and corporate leaders who are making commitments to move forward, fully recognizing from the federal government that that we don’t have all the answers, nor the resources, to solve these issues,” Super said.

Are the Boomers Included?

Some  have expressed concern that conference organizers are focusing too much on those currently over 65 and not enough on the needs and concerns of younger boomers. (Writing for Next Avenue last month, Ann MacDougall, president of Encore.org,  expressed hope that the conference would pay attention to needs of those 55 to 75.) Super pointed to several events the WHCOA has hosted with boomers in mind, including webinars  on caregiving and brain health and a focus on the importance of intergenerational connections. And just this week Super is attending the Silicon Valley Boomer Venture Summit listening for ideas.

It will really be a day with a mix of celebrities, cabinet secretaries and corporate leaders making commitments to move forward.

— Nora Super, Executive Director of the White House Conference on Aging

Who Is Invited?

Those attending the conference at the White House will include stakeholder groups the WHCOA has been working with, members of Congress, state and local officials who have been working on aging issues and regular citizens (older Americans who’ve written to the conference to share their stories and ideas).

Those without an invitation may watch the conference online. And if they want company, the WHCOA will be posting a list of public watch parties before the event; Super hopes there will be at least one in each state.

Recommendations to be Released

The goal of the conference is to create a set of policy recommendations and ideas to improve the lives of Americans as they age. Based on input received so far from the regional forums, policy briefs and dozens of webinars and events, the WHCOA will issue on conference day a set of policy recommendations from the administration and legislative proposals.

“After the event,” Super said, “we’ll have a final report that summarizes all of those recommendations, not just focusing on government, but on our private sector partners and the commitments they’ve made to help us move forward on these issues.”

While the conference will no longer be collecting feedback after July 13, Super says the White House is looking at ways to carry on the discussion and channel energy to move forward on the issues and solutions identified by the conference.

Next Avenue will post the agenda and policy recommendations as soon as those are available and will cover the conference.

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