Like everyone else in society, seniors sometimes need help. Unfortunately, they don’t always know where to turn. Here are some useful assistance programs that help seniors with health issues and health benefits, hunger, issues involving long-term care, financial planning, legal services, elder abuse, and healthy aging.
Every state has a State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) that provides counseling and assistance to seniors about Medicare or Medicare-related health insurance plans. SHIPs help seniors navigate and compare the bewildering array of programs and plans that are available to them, including:
- The Original Medicare (Parts A and B) program
- Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans
- Medicare Prescription Drug (Part D) plans
- The Medicare Savings Program
- State Medicaid programs
- Low Income Subsidies
- Medicare Supplemental (Medigap) insurance policies
- Other supplemental insurance policies, such as retiree insurance
- Long-term care insurance
SHIP refers beneficiaries to the Social Security Administration and to local Medicaid offices if they need further help resolving specific issues.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is administered in each state to provide assistance to low-income individuals so they can buy the food they need to maintain a healthy diet. Special rules broaden the availability of benefits to households that contain at least one individual who has reached the age of 60.
Formerly known as the “food stamp” program, the stigma that was once associated with food stamps has largely been eliminated. Instead of paying for food with stamps or coupons, seniors use a benefits card that is similar to a credit card. The average benefit for seniors is $113 per month.
A number of community-based organizations help seniors apply for SNAP benefits. Many of those organizations are supported by the National Council on Aging’s (NCOA) Senior SNAP Enrollment Initiative. The NCOA website also has an online tool that seniors can use to determine their eligibility for SNAP and other benefits programs.
The Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program is administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Aging. Each state has its own ombudsman. The staff members working for each ombudsman act as advocates for seniors who reside in long-term care facilities, including nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and board-and-care homes.
The Ombudsman Program helps residents resolve problems that have a negative impact on their quality of life. Those issues frequently include:
- Improper evictions or inadequate planning for discharge
- Failure of facility staff to provide necessary care or to answer residents’ questions
- Disrespectful or abusive staff attitudes
- Improper administration of medications
- Violations of privacy
Services provided by the Ombudsman Program include:
- Investigating and working to resolve complaints about care facilities
- Conducting regular visits of long-term facilities
- Providing training to long-term care facility staff members concerning the rights of residents
You can use this link to find contact information for the ombudsman in your state.
The Administration on Aging funds legal service providers who are trained to assist and protect the rights of seniors. Known as the Title III-B legal services network, participating lawyers help seniors with such issues as:
- Access to public benefits
- Access to housing options
- Eviction or foreclosure proceedings
- Advance directives and powers of attorney governing end-of-life issues
- Guardianship proceedings
- Elder abuse
Funding goes to a variety of legal services providers. Many of those can be accessed through legal hotlines. You can find a directory of legal assistance programs in each state on the website of the Center for Elder Rights Advocacy.
Seniors who want to learn how to manage their money can sign up for free financial education workshops sponsored by AARP Foundation Finances 50+. The Foundation also provides volunteers who help moderate-income seniors prepare tax returns.
The workshops help seniors learn how to create budgets, pay down debt, develop savings plans, and protect their assets. If there is not a workshop in your area, you can download the participant’s guide from the Foundation website.
The elderly are particularly vulnerable to physical, psychological, and financial abuse. Children, caregivers, and swindlers too often exploit the diminishing ability of seniors to protect themselves.
Adult Protective Services (APS) workers help seniors by responding to and investigating reports of elder abuse and neglect. They work in concert with other professionals, including the police, social workers, healthcare providers, housing authorities, financial experts, and advocates for domestic violence victims.
The National Center on Elder Abuse maintains a 50-state database of APS agencies and their contact information. Elders who have experienced abuse and friends or family members who suspect abuse can use that information to request intervention.
Seniors should rely on their doctors for specific information about treating any age-related health issues they may be experiencing. For general advice about staying healthy, they can turn to the various Institutes that comprise the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
While the primary focus of the National Institute on Aging (NIA) is on research, particularly on genetic or biological health conditions that affect seniors, the NIA makes a number of publications available to seniors that provide useful information about:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Disabilities associated with aging
- Improving longevity
- Women’s health and menopause
The NIA also disseminates information about healthcare for seniors on NIHSeniorHealth, a website dedicated to older adults. Articles cover a variety of topics, including recommended health screenings and immunizations, questions seniors should ask their doctors, and training materials that help seniors and others learn how to research health issues on the internet. Seniors can view short videos that provide tips for maintaining their health, current medical information, and stories about seniors who are coping with health conditions associated with aging.
A related NIA website, Go4Life, encourages seniors to maintain an active lifestyle by incorporating exercise into their daily routine. The website features exercises that are specially designed for seniors.