“Just call me if you need anything.”
These are kind words backed by good intentions, but when you are an older adult living on your own – or a caregiver – these words can evoke frustration. It puts the burden on you to call, text or email your friend or family member in your care circle with specific requests when you are not sure what they are willing to do or if they have the time to help. Quite frankly, you may not have time to reach out to them when you need someone to drive you to the doctor or pick up a few items at the grocery store. Thus, you end up doing it yourself.
There is no denying that family members and friends are at the center of your care circle, the group of people you surround yourself with to provide support as you care for an aging parent or as you grow older. They are there for emotional and physical support and to help in a pinch. A care circle is meant to expand as your needs grow. You are not expected to have all of the answers or even find all of the answers on your own. There are numerous organizations and trained professionals who can step in to help shoulder the load, particularly if your family is small, distant and/or juggling several responsibilities.
The number of assistance programs for seniors and their caregivers is impressive but tracking them down yourself can be overwhelming. We’ve compiled a list of six essential resources to add to your care circle so that you lead a well-rounded and active life.
ONE SEARCH = THOUSANDS OF BENEFITS
Did you know there are 2,500-plus benefits programs available to seniors in the U.S.? It would be an overwhelming task to hunt them down, one by one. Fortunately, the National Council on Aging has dramatically simplified the search process with its web-based Benefits Checkup search service – www.benefitscheckup.org
Navigate to the website, type in your zip code and search results will appear for programs in your area, including:
- In-home services
- Financial assistance
- Legal aid
- Energy/utility assistance
- Nutrition (including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP)/Food Stamps)
Using this service is a no-brainer. More than 8 million seniors have discovered $31 billion-plus in benefits through the Benefits Checkup service, according to the National Council on Aging, a nonprofit advocacy and service organization that focuses on joining the efforts of government, businesses and nonprofit organizations to improve the lives of our older adults.
HOME CARE SERVICES: HELP WITH YOUR “TO DO” LIST
There are times when you simply cannot juggle all of the items on your daily “To Do” list. There is no shame in reaching out to organizations that have resources in place to help you with housekeeping, errands and transportation services. It would be a shame NOT to take advantage of these helping hands!
The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging operates the Eldercare Locator service five days a week from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. to connect you with local service providers that can help with a ride to the doctor, a trip to the grocery store, chores around the house, meal deliveries and more. You can reach an information specialist at the Eldercare Locator service in a variety of ways:
- Call 1-800-677-1116
- Web Search or start an Online Chat
- Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
- There is also a handy pamphlet that you can download for more information about the Eldercare Locator service.
Similarly, the Eldercare Directory is an organization that has compiled extensive information about services available to seniors and caregivers in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. You can use the online search tool to find certified in-home care, home health, home nursing care, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech pathology, and medical social services in your area. An added benefit is that Eldercare Directory shares unbiased ratings and client reviews for each service so that you can refer to those when making service provider selections.
CALL COMPANION SERVICES: MAKE MEANINGFUL CONNECTIONS
We all enjoy our space, but we also have a deep need for companionship. If you are one of the approximately 16 million senior citizens in the U.S. living alone, there are times that you may feel lonely and/or isolated. You are not alone. Caregivers can step in to bridge the gap, but no one person can meet all of another’s needs.
Positive interpersonal communication and meaningful human connection have consistently proven to play a role in the vitality of people’s lives. Simply put, we all yearn for engaging and lively conversation. We all want to feel connected and to be heard. A call companion service steps up to supplement a caregiver’s role. They are there to listen to your incredible stories, share life experiences and check to make sure you are feeling good, taking your medication and that you are comfortable in your home.
Companion Matters offers a variety of call service packages that you can sign up for based on your needs. There are 13 different plans, ranging from twice-daily call services to weekly check-in calls. You are paired with call companions that share your interests so that you enjoy conversing and look forward to touching base with each other.
LEGAL SERVICES: GET HELP WITH THE DETAILS
Delving into legal documents can be both intimidating and mind-numbing, but it is a necessary evil, particularly when you are preparing wills, powers of attorney and advanced directives. If you do not have an attorney in the family, finding one can also be an intimidating prospect.
The first step you as a caregiver or senior can take is to get the facts about what an elder law attorney can do for you. AginginPlace.org is an excellent resource for information, including:
- Services provided by an elder law attorney;
- What questions to ask when you first meet with an attorney; and
- How to find an attorney in your area. This is a searchable database provided by the National Elder Law Foundation.
An equally important responsibility is the protection of your (or your family member’s) rights as an older adult. In our modern world, there are, unfortunately, individuals and companies that thrive on devising scams that target seniors. We must make it our mission to speak and act against those who perpetrate these crimes. Helpful resources to utilize include:
- The National Center on Elder Abuse provides information and resources on elder abuse prevention.
- The Eldercare Locator helps you find legal services in your community. Enter your ZIP code or city and state in the search bar at the top of the webpage or speak with an information specialist at 1-800-677-1116.
- The National Long-Term Care Ombudsmen Resource Center provides advocacy services for residents of nursing homes, board, and care homes and assisted living facilities.
Caregivers can also download helpful brochures here with tips on how to deal with conversations about legal, financial, medical and other sensitive subjects.
FINANCIAL SERVICES: NAVIGATING YOUR GOLDEN YEARS
Retirement planning continues well after retirement! Gone are the days when a family provider retired with a pension that all but guaranteed several years of a comfortable retirement for his or her family. Caregivers and seniors alike face retirement realities that may be a bit tricky, so it pays to know where to turn when you need additional resources or programs that supplement your finances.
The U.S. government’s official benefits website provides information on more than 1,000 benefits and assistance programs that you or your parent may be eligible for, including retirement and Social Security. If you have questions about an existing pension or want to see if there are pensions you “lost” or forgot, The Pension Rights Center is a good source of information.
When it comes to tax preparation, senior adults can utilize free tax preparation and filing services, including:
- The Internal Revenue Services’ (IRS) Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program for those who are 60 years of age and older; and,
- The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Foundation’s Tax-Aide program for taxpayers over 50.
- HEALTHCARE SERVICES: GUARD YOUR WELL-BEING
Every life stage brings its joys and challenges. Exercise and healthy eating can pave the way for remaining active in your later years, but that does not eliminate physical changes that go hand-in-hand with the natural aging process.
It makes sense to align yourself with physicians who specialize in senior (geriatric) medical care. Important qualities to look for in a primary care physician include:
- Substantial experience with conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, osteoporosis, and depression;
- A good reputation for prescribing appropriate medications and managing the interactive effects of medications on seniors;
- A wealth of knowledge about home health services and when to use them;
- Recommendations for regular screening tests (mammograms, bone density tests, stress tests, etc.) at appropriate intervals; and,
- Suggestions for appropriate fitness and meal plans for seniors.
Your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) and/or insurance provider can point you in the right direction. Other organizations that can help you find a doctor include:
- The American Board of Family Medicine offers an online physician search service for board-certified geriatricians. Type in your city and state and select “Geriatric Medicine” in the “Limit Your Search” box.
- There is also a searchable database of geriatric healthcare professionals on the HealthinAging.org website. All physicians listed are members of the American Geriatrics Society.
Health insurance in general – and the Medicare program in particular – is a complex and confusing subject. With 10,000 people celebrating their 65th birthday each day in the U.S., the need for accurate and clear information about Medicare is at an all-time high. There are solid resources available – just a few clicks away – through the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), which helps you locate the state agency that can provide you answers about your Medicare coverage. You can also download the “Medicare & You” handbook as an additional guide to use while you are navigating murky Medicare insurance waters.