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National Council on Aging: Interview With Paul DelPonte

How NCOA Is Helping Seniors Keep Their Independence

By , Caring.com senior editor

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Our society is facing an unprecedented challenge. With 40 million citizens -- 13 percent of the U.S. population -- aged 65 or older, and an average life expectancy at an all-time high of more than 78 years, we are facing issues on a grand scale that prior generations rarely encountered. The National Council on Aging (NCOA) works to improve the health and economic security of elderly Americans and to strengthen the public programs that support them. Paul DelPonte is a spokesman for the National Council on Aging.

What is the mission and purpose of NCOA?

Paul DelPonte, National Council on Aging: NCOA is a nonprofit service and advocacy organization whose mission is to improve the lives of millions of older adults, especially those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged.

NCOA works with thousands of organizations across the country to help seniors find jobs and benefits, improve their health, and live independently. We're also a national voice for older Americans and the community organizations that serve them.

What are NCOA's key initiatives for improving the health of older adults?

PD: NCOA's goal is to improve the health of 4 million older adults with multiple serious health problems through participation in cost-effective, proven programs. Here's how we're working toward that goal:

  • Chronic Conditions
    NCOA is bringing Stanford University's Chronic Disease Self-Management Program to tens of thousands of older adults nationwide through community and online workshops. This proven six-week workshop helps people with chronic conditions learn how to manage their condition, reduce stress, locate and use community resources, and communicate with their doctors. Better Choices, Better Health is the online version, and NCOA is the exclusive provider nationwide.

  • Falls Prevention
    NCOA leads the Falls FreeĀ© Initiative -- a group of 70 national organizations and 44 state coalitions that are working to reduce falls among older adults. This initiative promotes proven falls prevention programs and sponsors an annual National Falls Prevention Awareness Day in September on the first day of fall.

  • Community Education
    NCOA brings the message of prevention and self-care directly to older adults through community education programs nationwide.

  • Self-Management Alliance
    NCOA developed and is leading the alliance to promote strategic collaboration among government, business, and nonprofit organizations to achieve the goal of making evidence-based self-management an integral part of healthcare in the United States by 2020.

The economic security of older adults is another main focus for NCOA.

PD: Retirement is not "golden" for all older adults. Over 23 million Americans aged 60-plus are economically insecure -- living at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty level ($27,925 per year for a single person).

These older adults struggle each day with rising housing and healthcare bills, inadequate nutrition, lack of access to transportation, diminished savings, and job loss. For many, that means making daily decisions about whether to spend their limited income on food, heat, or medicine. For older adults who are above the poverty level, one major adverse life event can change today's realities into tomorrow's troubles.

What are NCOA's key initiatives to enhance the economic security of older adults?

PD: Our goal is to improve the financial well-being of 5 million low-income and vulnerable older adults by providing comprehensive services that significantly increase their income and/or reduce their expenses. Here's how we're working toward that goal:

  • Economic Security Initiative
    NCOA offers innovative programs in 20 communities to help economically disadvantaged older adults cut through red tape and create a plan to build their own economic stability. The service includes one-on-one assistance, counseling, and follow-up to help seniors find jobs, assistance with healthcare and prescription drugs, housing and nutrition programs, and financial planning.

  • Home Equity
    As a federally approved reverse mortgage counseling intermediary, NCOA offers unbiased information to help older homeowners determine if a reverse mortgage is right for them -- and what other services and supports are available to help them age in place. Our website Home Equity Advisor includes a free Quick Check to explore ways to protect and use home equity in retirement.

  • Benefits Access
    Since 2001, 3.4 million people have used NCOA's free and confidential BenefitsCheckUpĀ® to find benefits programs worth over $12.8 billion that help them pay for prescription drugs, healthcare, rent, utilities, and more. Our My Medicare Matters website helps people with Medicare make the most of their coverage and choose a plan that's right for them.

  • Senior Community Service Employment Program
    SCSEP offers valuable on-the-job training and job placement that helps older workers, particularly those who are low-income or disadvantaged, build job skills and confidence. NCOA operates 22 SCSEP projects throughout the U.S.

In terms of advocacy, NCOA is committed to strengthening public programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and the Older Americans Act. What does this mean in practice?

PD: NCOA brings the voices of older adults -- especially the vulnerable and disadvantaged -- and the organizations that serve them to Washington to protect and strengthen programs that work.

Last year, our grassroots One Away campaign collected and shared more than 5,000 personal stories of struggling older adults, generated 30,000 letters to Congress, and encouraged 30 organizations and over 2,000 citizen advocates to express their support for protecting and strengthening the Older Americans Act.

NCOA successfully advocated for $10 million in new federal funding for chronic disease self-management programs and worked with partners to protect Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries from harmful proposed budget cuts.

If you had to name one, what is the main threat to the health and well-being of older adults today?

PD: The main threat to older adults today is losing their independence. This loss can come from a chronic illness that requires long-term care or from uncertain economic times.

What opportunities exist to get involved with NCOA?

PD: NCOA offers multiple ways for people to get involved in our work.

  • Older adults and caregivers can use and share our free tools and information to find the help they need to stay healthy and secure.

  • Professionals in aging can use our programs and resources to better serve the older adults in their community.

  • Advocates can add their voice to ours as we work to improve and protect programs for older adults, especially the vulnerable and disadvantaged.