“Older adults are an asset to our country,” said Sylvia Burwell, U.S. secretary of health and human services, at a White House Conference on Aging regional forum in Boston on May 28.
Burwell was a keynote speaker at the final of five invitation-only regional forums designed to engage older Americans, their families, caregivers, advocates, community leaders and experts on key issues affecting seniors. Their ideas and opinions will help set the agenda for the White House conference on July 13 in Washington.
Burwell cited two big ideas that have emerged at the forums that began in March: the importance of age-friendly communities and a culture change as a nation when viewing aging. “We must build a structure of wellness for all Americans,” she said.
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The 2015 White House conference will focus on four areas: ensuring retirement security, promoting healthy aging, providing long-term services and supports, and protecting older Americans from elder abuse.
Victims of elder abuse — which includes financial exploitation and neglect — are three times more likely to die prematurely than older adults who have not been subjected to abuse, said Judith Shaw, administrator for the Maine Office of Securities, during a panel discussion about retirement security and elder justice. Her office investigates reported violations of securities laws. “We need to build a safety net for our seniors” by connecting them to existing community resources and enforcing state and federal laws to protect them from financial abuse, Shaw said.
In another vein, a financial support system to pay for long-term care is needed, said Jeanette Takamura, dean of the School of Social Work at Columbia University. “We don’t want to impoverish ourselves in order to be taken care of” through Medicaid.
When it comes to healthy aging, “people want to focus on their health, not their health care,” said geriatrician Robert Schreiber, medical director at Hebrew Senior Life. He noted the Blue Zones, pockets around the world where people live measurably longer, as examples of healthy aging communities.
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Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said in her keynote address that economic security is a major issue for older adults, pointing to the importance of Social Security in keeping many out of poverty. But the program is also important to those who aren’t of retirement age. “Strengthening Social Security isn’t just about honoring our promise to seniors, but also honoring our promise to young people,” Warren said.
The regional forums were cosponsored with AARP and planned with the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations (LCAO), a coalition of more than 70 of the nation’s leading organizations serving older Americans.
AARP will live-stream the White House Conference on Aging on July 13.
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