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Making a Difference for Older Americans: 1950 - Today

For more than 60 years, we have made improving the lives of older Americans our passion and our mission.

Originally formed in response to concerns about rising health costs and mandatory retirement, our organization continues to champion issues and create innovative programs that reflect our core values and focus on making life better for older adults, especially those with limited income and resources.

Because of our efforts through more than a half century, older Americans are healthier and more fulfilled and are better able to age with dignity, independence, and financial security.

Early History: Spurring Change from the Beginning

NCOA was already hard at work on behalf of older Americans before Congress ever enacted Medicare, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), or the Older Americans Act (OAA).

In fact, our efforts to raise awareness of critical issues facing older adults—particularly those with limited income and resources—helped lay the foundation for historic government programs and gave birth to national organizations that would have a profound effect on public policy affecting seniors.

  • 1950: The National Social Welfare Assembly forms the National Committee on Aging; renamed the National Council on the Aging (NCOA) in 1960.
  • 1952: NCOA’s Criteria for Retirement report is the outgrowth of a pioneering collaboration by business, labor, and government to explore alternatives to using age as the sole retirement criterion.
  • 1956: The Ford Foundation, recognizing the need for a strong, centralized source of information and consultation, makes its first grant to NCOA in a relationship that lasts until 1963.
  • 1957: NCOA’s Bridging the Gap between Existing Practices and Desirable Goals in Homes for the Aged and Nursing Homes report spurs action on legislation, licensing, and improvements in practice for nursing homes.
  • 1957: NCOA opens the Ollie Randall Library, the first and most comprehensive categorized library collection in the field of aging.
  • 1961: NCOA leaders form the American Association of Homes for the Aging.
  • 1962: An NCOA study on local meals programs lays the groundwork for the federal Meals on Wheels program.
  • 1965: Congress enacts Medicare, Medicaid, and the OAA. NCOA’s Operation Medicare Alert employs teams of older Americans to inform isolated elders about the new benefits available to them.
  • 1967: NCOA helps persuade Congress to enact the ADEA and, in 1986, eliminate mandatory retirement completely.
  • 1974: The Nixon Administration begins the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.

Improving the Lives of Older Americans

At our core, we are an organization focused on developing, implementing, and disseminating programs that improve the lives of older Americans—particularly those with limited income and resources. We focus the bulk of our work in the areas of work and volunteering, healthy aging, benefits access, and ensuring older adults’ ability to remain independent.

Work & Volunteering

Since our early work as a sponsor of the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), we have identified and disseminated innovative programs that engage older adults as both paid employees and volunteers.

  • 1965: NCOA issues Foster Grandparents guidelines, creating the model for the existing federal program.
  • 1968: NCOA first contracts with the U.S. Labor Department to administer SCSEP, which has helped thousands of seniors with limited means find employment.
  • 1972: NCOA is instrumental in the passage and implementation of Title V of the OAA, which funds community service employment for older people.
  • 1986: NCOA launches Family Friends, an intergenerational program matching older volunteers with children with disabilities or chronic illnesses. NCOA also becomes a program sponsor of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Senior Environmental Employment (SEE) program, which allows older workers to use their career skills and knowledge in jobs that support environmental projects.
  • 2003: NCOA begins both RespectAbility™ and Wisdom Works to develop new models of volunteering to help community organizations tap into boomers’ and seniors’ vast knowledge and experience to solve critical social problems.
  • 2007: NCOA’s MaturityWorks Alliance forms to support advocacy efforts on behalf of older workers.

Healthy Aging

We have a history of working to help older Americans live healthier and longer lives by increasing the quality and accessibility of health programming in communities nationwide.

  • 1990: NCOA organizes the Health Promotion Institute to promote physical, mental, emotional, and social well-being for older adults.
  • 1999: NCOA partners with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to link older adults with alcohol and mental health resources and later issues promising practices and the Get Connected toolkit.
  • 2002: NCOA launches a multi-year national initiative to promote best practices in physical activity programs for older adults.
  • 2003: NCOA forms the Center for Healthy Aging to serve as a change agent and national resource for community-based organizations that want to offer health promotion programs proven to enhance seniors’ quality of life. The U.S. Administration on Aging (AoA) chooses NCOA to be the national technical assistance center for its Evidence-Based Disease Prevention Initiative.
  • 2005: The Falls Free™ Initiative begins with release of the Falls Free National Action Plan, designed to help reduce the
    incidence of falls and fall-related injuries among older adults.
  • 2006: AoA, NCOA, and the Atlantic Philanthropies announce a public-private partnership to implement evidence-based programs nationwide.
  • 2007: Evidence-based prevention programs become available through aging services organizations in more than 30 states.

Access to Benefits

Since our work educating seniors about Medicare in the 1960s, we have made improving seniors’ access to benefits a cornerstone of our mission.

  • 1967: Project Find uses teams of elders to help others living in poverty learn about the services available to them.
  • 1970: Project SHARE uses students to deliver low-cost services to older persons.
  • 2001: NCOA launches BenefitsCheckUp®, the nation’s most comprehensive online
    benefits screening tool.
  • 2004: NCOA forms the Access to Benefits Coalition to help seniors with limited means find prescription savings.
  • 2005: NCOA’s Benefits Enrollment Fund offers community-based organizations a financial incentive to enroll seniors affected by devastating hurricanes in benefits programs.
  • 2006: NCOA’s My Medicare Matters campaign touches more than 200,000 seniors and educates them about the new Medicare prescription drug coverage.
  • 2007: BenefitsCheckUp® reaches the two million mark, finding more than $6 billion in benefits for older adults.

Staying Independent

True to our roots in promoting better access to quality long-term care, we continue our efforts to help seniors stay independent as long as possible.

  • 1995: NCOA launches Independent Choices, a program to enhance consumer direction in home- and community-based long-term care services for older adults and persons with disabilities.
  • 2005: Use Your Home to Stay at Home is published, showing the potential for seniors to use their home equity to pay for care and services that help them live at home longer.
  • 2007: NCOA develops an innovative counseling program in partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to help senior homeowners examine their financial options to stay at home.
  • 2007: NCOA’s Support Our Seniors campaign helps persuade Congress to increase funding for OAA programs.

Demystifying Aging

Through our trail-blazing research and public awareness campaigns, we have been a leader and national voice to counter stereotypes about aging in America.

  • 1974: NCOA publishes its first Myths and Realities of Aging study—one of the nation’s first research efforts to break down stereotypes about older adults.
  • 1981: NCOA’s Aging in America study offers another snapshot of trends in aging.
  • 2000: American Perceptions of Aging is published based on the third Myths and Realities of Aging study.
  • 2005: The Open Road: America Looks at Aging, a film cosponsored by NCOA and the Atlantic Philanthropies, airs on public broadcasting stations nationwide, offering a closer look at the changing face of retirement across the country.

The Power of Collaboration and Networking

We believe that partners working together can accomplish far more than any one organization working alone.

  • 1970: NCOA forms the National Institute of Senior Centers (NISC) to bring together leaders of senior centers nationwide to share best practices and develop a national accreditation program.
  • 1980: NCOA is a founding member of the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations, a national coalition of 54 national aging organizations.
  • 1991: The National Interfaith Coalition on Aging (NICA) joins NCOA.
  • 1996: The National Coalition of Consumer Organizations (NCCO) forms.
  • 2001: NCOA partners with the American Society on Aging (ASA) to sponsor the first joint national conference for professionals in the field of aging.
  • 2001: The National Adult Day Services Association, which started in 1979, becomes an independent organization.
  • 2005: The White House Conference on Aging report reflects NCOA’s top priorities, as it has in its past four conferences.

Other membership groups formed in the 1990s to represent particular interests in the field of aging include the National Institute of Senior Housing and National Institute on Community-Based Long-Term Care.

Looking to the Future

What will NCOA be 60 years from now? The hope and dream of NCOA leaders is that many of the challenges that now face America’s seniors—such as poverty, the inability to afford long-term care, and the lack of meaningful work and volunteer opportunities—will no longer exist.

As the largest generation in U.S. history begins to turn 65, the need for an organization such as NCOA is as great as it was in 1950.

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