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Find Community Services for Older Residents

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Although some of the elements may differ, people who are planning for long-term care should look just as carefully at communities as young families do. Sometimes, however, the importance of a community is overlooked, precisely because it may be very familiar. Living in a community at one stage of life does not prepare you for what may be needed at a later stage.

In addition to what is visible within a community, an important part of an evaluation is what you can't see: the availability of services designed for older people. Some of these services are

  • Adult day programs

    • Social programs (offer meals and activities)

    • Medical day programs (provide assistance with healthcare needs as well as social activities)

  • Case management (coordination of medical needs)

  • Group meals for seniors in a senior center, community center, or church

  • Exercise and physical fitness programs

  • Friendly visitor programs

  • Home-delivered meals

  • Hotlines

  • Legal services

  • Minor home repairs

  • Nutrition counseling

  • Telephone reassurance

  • Support groups

  • Transportation

Not every community has all these services, and they are particularly sparse in rural areas. You or a family member will have to investigate what is actually available and what restrictions are in place. Some publicly funded services called home- and community-based services are available only to people eligible for Medicaid. Other services are open to everyone but have waiting lists. Many services are free, but others charge.

The best place to start is your local Area Agency on Aging, which may be a city or regional office. This agency probably has information on all the publicly funded services available in your community.

Some medical facilities and home-care agencies may have a staff person who can make referrals to community-based agencies. Often this person becomes involved after a hospitalization because of the high risk of readmission if services are not in place to keep the person at home.

Beyond publicly funded services and medical referrals, many religious and charitable organizations offer services. Volunteers work with many agencies to visit older people at home, do minor repairs, shovel snow, pick up prescriptions from the pharmacy in bad weather, and just be a good neighbor. People who receive home-delivered meals often look forward to the delivery person's visit as much as they do the food itself.

Disease-specific organizations, such as the Alzheimer's Association or the Parkinson's Disease Foundation, have local programs that offer training, support groups, and other activities to people with the disease and their family members.

Before you call an agency, write down specific questions to ask the agency representative, and be as concrete and detailed as possible. Take advantage of the fact that you have a real person on the line to talk to you. If you find this person helpful, get his or her name and ask to speak with him or her if you need to call again.

Think broadly about community resources. A museum may offer special classes or tours for older people or people with disabilities. Colleges and universities may have performances, classes, or other opportunities to stay engaged. Community centers offer programs for all ages and may have special events for older people.

Professionals called geriatric care managers, who are usually social workers or nurses, may be able to advise you on what services are available and how they have worked out for other clients They charge fees, generally by the hour.

The National Association of Professional Care Mangers has a referral service. You can also ask local agencies for referrals. Geriatric care managers are particularly useful when you not on the scene all the time, because they can keep tabs on the workers you have hired and make sure all is going smoothly.

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