Feature Series: White House Conference on Aging Through the Decades – 1971

The White House Conference on Aging (WHCOA) has been held every decade since the 1960s to address issues currently faced by older adults. As we approach the WHCOA date in 2015, we will highlight topics and results from each one held to date.


The WHCOA of 1971 faced a more complicated purpose than the first held a decade prior. The conference of 1961 had changed the landscape for aging Americans. The Administration on Aging was established by the Older Americans Act and both Medicare & Medicaid were created to lessen the burden that older adults faced. Thus, in 1971, the WHCOA had to review the effectiveness of these programs and if they still met the needs of older adults in this decade and the decades to come.

The key issue faced by older Americans in 1971 was retirement income. Although social security increased by 10%, inflation caused the cost of living to surpass what an older adult could manage. Medicare was established to ensure older adults received the health care they need, yet, health care costs were rising and programs were being reduced. Even with Medicare, an older adult pays twice as much for health services because they are more than likely to have more than once chronic disease to manage.

The WHCOA recommended that supplemental services for hearing, vision and dental be included in Medicare. Unfortunately, even today these services are excluded. The WHCOA also brought up the ‘double jeopardy’ older American minorities encountered. This group not only faced the difficulties of being 65+, but minority groups faced greater deprivation, poor nutrition, substandard housing and limited income compared to their counterparts.

As a result of the conference, the Older Americans Act established the Area Agency on Aging and created programs that provided nutrition, transportation, protective services, employment training and health support for older adults and Indian tribal organizations.

1961 | 1971 |