2015 White House Conference on Aging

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Nora Super and others at Listening Sessions 2014

2. April 2015 15:42
by Nora Super

Healthy Aging and Healthy Communities

2. April 2015 15:42 by Nora Super | 1 Comments

Last week, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julián Castro, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Assistant Secretary for Aging Kathy Greenlee, and I hosted a listening session at the White House with experts in aging, housing, and health care to hear their ideas and insights about opportunities to help older adults remain healthy and active in their communities.  
Session participants urged us to break down the silos between housing, transportation, health care, and long-term services and supports.  They also shared wonderful examples of communities—such as Boston and Reno—who’ve come together to address these issues with a multifaceted, multidiscipline approach, recognizing that healthy aging takes place in communities where older adults can be active, find affordable and appropriate housing, and access needed health and social services.

From left to right: WHCOA Executive Director Nora Super, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, HUD Secretary Julian Castro, Asst. Secretary for Aging Kathy Greenlee, and Carole Johnson, Senior Advisor, Domestic Policy Council

Secretary Castro reminded us that quality housing and strong communities are essential to ensure that all older Americans are able to choose their own destiny and find the home and neighborhood that is best for them. Surgeon General Murthy recalled an older patient he had treated who had been struggling with diabetes and obesity for many years.  The patient was continually told to exercise, lose weight, and eat well.  Unfortunately, it was too dangerous to walk in her community, and the only local store offering food was a 7-Eleven.  As the Surgeon General noted, “the biggest lever for health is the community.”

Knowing that healthy aging is especially reliant on communities that provide appropriate housing and transportation options, the President’s 2016 Budget requests funding to support housing for very low-income elderly households, including the frail elderly, to allow seniors to age in a stable environment and help them access human services.  This request includes $10 million in new investments to expand a project that we hope will tell us more about the relationship between service coordinators and housing.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s website also has a section on “Information for Senior Citizens” that offers information on housing assistance opportunities for older adults. 

HUD Secretary Julian Castro addresses participants at Housing and Healthy Aging Listening Session

Additionally, its Service Coordinator Program provides funds for coordinators in assisted apartment housing to ensure that older residents, especially those who are frail or at risk, are linked to the specific support services they need to continue to live independently in that housing development.

Through the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Transportation, and the Environmental Protection Agency, are helping communities nationwide improve access to affordable housing, increase transportation options, and lower transportation costs while protecting the environment.
The National Institutes of Health also continues to support collaborative research to find ways to help seniors age in place and to remain healthy.

Encouraging all of us to engage in healthy behaviors, having the right housing options to allow older adults to live as independently as possible, and helping to ensure access to health care, services, and social supports, are necessary elements in any formula for healthy aging—and we'll continue to examine these issues as part of the 2015 White House Conference on Aging.

Thank you for your interest in commenting on this blog. At this time, we are no longer accepting comments. If you are still interested in sharing your thoughts, please e-mail them to info@whaging.gov

Comments (1) -

Let our voices be heard….
As a certified senior fitness instructor and founder of Seniors ‘N Sync, LLC, I have been involved in many aspects of older adult wellness and fitness since 2000.  In 2005 I attended the WHCoA as an at large delegate from VA with high expectations of making a difference for aging Baby Boomers.  Those hopes were quickly squelched due to the disorganization and politicizing of the conference agenda. It was a huge debacle and at large delegates had little opportunity to present their ideas because government agencies monopolized the discussions in an effort to accomplish their own agendas.  Therefore I appreciate the opportunity to express my concerns and to appeal to the organizers of the 2015 White House Conference on Aging to focus on the needs of the Baby Boomer generation and to recognize that they view aging in a completely different light than their predecessors.
As an active member of the International Council on Aging for thirteen years, I strongly support the need to “change the way we age”.
•  First and foremost our nation needs to do more to foster “preventative” approaches to healthcare and provide incentives for older adults to take responsibility for their health.  We must change the paradigm of older adult healthcare from an “illness” model to a “wellness” model.  The medical community needs to embrace alternative methods of care and insurances need to cover alternative methods of treatment.  Physicians should be better versed in a holistic approach to care that encompasses the seven dimensions of wellness rather than resorting to pharmaceutical solutions.  Insurance companies should provide incentives/ discounts for all persons over the age of 55 who seek and participate in fitness programs within their community.  If fitness programs are taught by certified fitness instructors who specialize in older adult fitness, they should be recognized as a valuable resource and their programs should be funded or granted full or partial payment for the participant  by his/ her  medical insurance company.  The current trend of offering reimbursement or membership fees for only those companies that have proven clinical results in reimbursement for the more functional seniors and discriminates against those who need functional fitness exercise due to disabilities, chronic health conditions, continued exercise once released from medical rehab etc. Offering memberships to nationally established companies that “clone” their programs in gyms means is counter-productive because most deconditioned seniors refuse to set foot in gyms as they are typically not age friendly.  The health club staff is often not senior certified and do not have the patience or know how to work with older adults. A gym is often a constant reminder of declining abilities and health because it exudes athleticism and caters to the younger generations. It is time to embrace the local businesses that reach out to and cater to the individual needs of their clients.  Small businesses don’t mass produce videos; they take a personal approach and responsibility for each person they serve.
•  The local venue for senior fitness is often routed in “senior centers” or community centers that date back to their 1970’s roots in terms of management style, program offerings, unwholesome meals, social activities etc.  They are outdated and receive inadequate funding on a national and/or state level. Baby Boomers refuse to associate themselves with the current model of senior center because of the stagnant, repetitive and often passive options appealed to the “golden years” generation, but lack purpose and opportunities for the current aging population. The term” Senior Center” conjures up thoughts of Bingo, unhealthy food, card games, and passive entertainment that encourages to much sitting, little or no cognitive stimulation and little variation in  routine; all of which are detrimental to our physical and mental well-being!  Innovative methods of funding senior and community centers need to be implemented to create life enrichment centers that offer older adults an opportunity to remain productive and contributing members of society.  They should be age friendly and encourage inter-generational interaction.  There should be educational opportunities for older adults to keep their minds sharp and learn how to navigate in our fast paced, technology world. These new models should provide brain fitness and computer courses as well as popular arts and craft classes and promote meaningful volunteer projects that will encourage older adults to remain engaged in their community and in life!  The older adult population should play a role in operating the center and should have input as to what is offered on their behalf. However, the new centers must embrace all generations and tap into the resources and benefits of inter-generational interaction.  Older adults can provide baby-sitting,  tutoring or mentoring assistance; while teenagers can offer to instruct older adults how to use a mobile phone, navigate the internet or become familiar with a computer.  The new life enrichment models are created to  bring communities together. They demonstrate respect for the contributions of the older adult population, past and present. They promote purposeful living for all older adults regardless of physical or cognitive challenges.  The new community centers should create spaces that encourage socialization by implementing “coffee café’s” and bistros that offer healthy foods prepared by and/ or distributed to the center by local restaurants that compete/bid for the opportunity to cater to the center.  Partnerships with local businesses are a must!   We must find creative ways for businesses to contribute to and support the local community life enrichment center. Let’s make community service through business count!  Maybe they could qualify for a tax break if they provide a service or food that benefits the center.  It is time to think outside the box!
•  Community life enrichment centers can also act as a catalyst for support systems necessary to promote aging in place!  Most Baby Boomers are not considering retirement until absolutely necessary, for various reasons; the desire to keep working, the stimulation and purposeful living that the job market offers, the lack of retirement funds etc.  Many older adults can’t afford Long Term Care insurance to provide for their extended life needs.  Most older adults  choose not to live in a senior living community or they simply can’t afford the cost to do so.  Therefore our local state governments need to take action immediately to establish aging in place alternatives that will allow older adults more than meals on wheels and transportation to doctor appointments!  Although there are several successful “aging in place” models ranging from the “village” approach to other more innovative designs we need to continue to develop creative approaches to living at home yet remaining engaged in our communities. Aging in place should allow for safe transportation to and from social events, fitness classes, educational seminars or the local University, visiting friends, entertainment options etc.  Without the systems that support engagement in life and purposeful living, seniors simply become relegated to being home bound.  Being home bound leads to physical, social, emotional, mental, and intellectual decline.  It feeds into the illness model of care; not the wellness/ preventative model of care. What will it take to help older adults remain cognascent, active, and independently functional for as long as possible?  Fitness is the foundation for wellness. When a person lacks confidence in his/her ability to function and perform necessary tasks in a safe and capable manner, he or she won’t reach outside their safe environment to interact with others, volunteer or mentor, become involved or committed to causes or expand their horizons.  Quality, safe and appropriate exercise that promotes functional fitness is the key to successful aging and unlocks the door to all dimensions of wellness.
•  Finally, while I believe we need to safeguard Medicare, the Older American Act and Social Security, we need to be open to change that will better serve the Baby Boomer population over the next decade.  Medicare dictates and restricts the types of services and the conditions under which they may be offered through Home Health Care Agencies. These rules and regulations mandate that a person become dysfunctional in order to receive care through the system. This is wrong; we need to change the policies and allow Medicare to embrace and partner with wellness and fitness professionals who can provide a proactive approach to assist homebound clients to improve their health.  Again, Medicare is mired in the “illness” care syndrome rather than the preventive approach to care.  
•  Instead of just talking about the importance of prevention through exercise, diet, stress management and how to keep our cognitive faculties from deteriorating, we need to provide ways to attain optimal health through our national government, state and locally sponsored programs, grants and funding options. The taxpayers can’t carry the burden for all of what is needed.  It is time to appeal to and tap into businesses with the expectation and requirements that they find a way to partner with and contribute to the health of the communities that support them.
The time for “talk” has passed; it is now time for action!  Listen to the organizations that serve and understand the needs of older adults ( AARP and the International Council on Active Aging to name a few). Those responsible for organizing and  implementing the 2015 WHCoA need to get it right this time.  It was very frustrating to not receive valuable White Papers that deserved serious consideration before it was time to vote or propose policies at the 2005 conference.  I was so disillusioned and disgusted with the lack of organization and the political protocol that dictated the narrow-mindedness of the agendas in 2005 that I wrote an article which was published in the Journal on Active Aging (ICAA) entitled: “A Missed Opportunity for Active Aging”. In it I expressed my feelings of despair regarding likelihood that the Baby Boomer generations projected needs would be ignored or put aside until 2015 at the earliest.  Why do we procrastinate?  Why can’t we be proactive?  Much of what we needed yesterday has been put off until we are in a state of crisis…..inexcusable!   It is time to demonstrate respect and acknowledgement for all that the Baby Boomer Generation created and improved throughout their lifetimes.  It is time to give back and grant the services they require in the manner in which they will embrace them.  Allow them to age with dignity. This is last opportunity we will have to do that!  The next conference will be too late to make a difference for the majority of Boomers!

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