White House Conferences on Aging: 1961, 1971, 1981 & 2005

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  • 0:01 A Listening Session
  • 0:53 Before the WHCOA
  • 1:20 History of WHCOA
  • 3:53 Structure of WHCOA
  • 5:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine has an M.A. in American Studies, the study of American history/society/culture. She is an instructional designer, educator, and writer.

In this lesson, you are a fly on the wall at a meeting in preparation for the White House Conference on Aging. Find out what important historical events have been sparked by these meetings and why this forum matters.

A Listening Session

Darryl has been invited to a local community forum to discuss issues in his life as an older adult. He finds out this is called a listening session. The event is in preparation for the White House Conference on Aging. The leader of this event tells him that his participation will help his voice be heard at the national event, held approximately every ten years.

The person leading the session is a woman named Dawn, a younger professional whose work is focused on aging adults. Other older adults are present, including Gertrude, a woman in her 90s who has been a delegate in conferences on aging since the beginning. This lesson focuses on the purpose, goals, and history of the White House Conference on Aging. We'll go back in time to previous decades to learn about the significant milestones that came from these forums.

Before the WHCoA

As Darryl chats with the attendees of his listening session, he finds out that Gertrude, now in her 90s, can remember participating in the very first national event to address aging, when she was only in her 20s. President Truman had kicked off the idea of an official national get-together when he convened a National Conference on Aging. Since that first event, the executive branch of the government has hosted a White House Conference on Aging every decade.

History of the WHCoA

Darryl can guess as to the overall purpose of gathering experts on aging - to improve the lives of older adults - but he wants to know more about the real impact. Does the conference really matter?

The leader of the listening session, Dawn, asks if he can remember the creation of Medicare and Medicaid, and the passage of the Older Americans Act. While it was a while back, in the 1960s, Darryl does remember that these changes were a big deal. Dawn tells him that the 1961 conference helped spark these major events that would impact older adults even today; that conference also generated important amendments to the Social Security Act.

Darryl considers his own life and wonders if any of the benefits he enjoys were recommendations of an earlier conference, particularly the hot meals he receives at his home due to his limited mobility. Dawn confirms that this nutrition program was established not long after the 1971 conference, providing meals to seniors in their homes and in congregate settings. Two important new research groups were also established as a result of that decade's priorities: the National Institute on Aging and the National Advisory Council on Aging.

Darryl notices the diverse range of people in the listening session. He asks if these events have always included people of all backgrounds. Gertrude shakes her head, remembering how in the first few events, she was one of just a few women who attended, and how few ethnic groups were represented. Dawn describes how the 1981 conference made strides to improve this by including a formula for delegate selection. The formula helped diversify the demographics of those who attended to make it more representative of the actual U.S. population.

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