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Aging Nation Tested By Health, Finances

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Daylina Miller/WUSF News

Social Security is turning 80 this year. 

And Medicare is hitting the big 5-0. 

These aging government programs - and the challenges brought on by the enormous Baby Boomer generation - underscored Thursday's discussions at the first of five White House Conference on Aging regional gatherings. 

For example, Florida residents 65 and older are expected to make up a quarter of the state's population by 2030.  Those numbers magnify the value of staying well, said Naushira Panya,  professor of geriatrics at Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine.

"Many, almost a million Floridians, are really of my mother's generation and that in fact makes healthy aging a really important topic in this state,” Panya said. “Longevity is a gift of the 21st century and longevity is really going to make that gift a meaningful gift."

The event, at Hillsborough Community College's Ybor City campus, gathered input from regional advocates and leaders. The information will be used at a national summit in July, where leaders will identify top priorities for older Americans. 

While health care and Social Security continue to be top issues for many seniors, advocates at the forum said fraud and abuse are serious problems, too.

Becky Morgan, a Stetson University law professor and elder law expert, said seniors live in a very different world than when the first White House Aging Summit was first held in 1961.

Educating the public and prosecuting those who victimize seniors should be made a national priority, she said.

"You can't unfortunately take people at their word anymore,” Morgan said. “When you are dealing with folks who maybe come to your door, and want to trim your trees, or sod your lawn or repair your roof. You've got to be a really smart consumer and you've got to be proactive."

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Credit Daylina Miller/WUSF News
Cecilia Muñoz, Assistant to President Barack Obama and Director of the Domestic Policy Council, spoke at the Tampa Regional Forum of the White House Aging Conference Thursday.

The White House has held the Conference on Aging every 10 years since the 1960s to improve the quality of life of older Americans.

Similar forums will be held in Phoenix, Seattle, Cleveland and Boston, focusing on issues such as healthy aging, long-term services and support systems, retirement security and elder justice.

2015 marks not only the 6th Aging Conference, but also the 50th anniversary of Medicare, Medicaid and the Older Americans Act, as well as the 80th anniversary of Social Security. 

Daylina Miller and Mary Shedden are reporters with WUSF in Tampa. Health News Florida receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.