Health
August 18, 2018
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Free and discounted services for seniors 

By: Julie Ann Soukoulis
June 15, 2018
Navigating the aging journey

The majority of seniors today are living on limited income. These sources include Social Security, a small pension and perhaps some other form of government assistance. When so few resources are available, discovering affordable products and services is mandatory for well-being. 

Your local Area Agencies Focused on Aging are the best places to start when looking for assistance. Local charities and non-profit service organizations such as Meals on Wheels are also important to review. The most needed items like free hearing aids and free dentures—are also the most difficult to find. 

Benefits of counseling: 

Free counseling is available through your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) which will point you in the right direction. Get answers about health insurance coverage, food stamps, income assistance and other benefits through these helpers.

Adult day care:

Adult day care centers are run by government entities, local charities and religious groups. These centers provide seniors with a safe place to socialize, engage in activities and eat a hot meal while supervised. Adult day care is ideal for seniors who can’t be alone. Any local AAA will direct you to a local provider - or just conduct a quick-search in AgingCare’s Adult Day Care Directory for a facility in your area.

Most facilities charge nominal fees merely to cover their operating costs. Many offer services on a sliding scale, depending on a senior’s income and ability to pay.

Eligibility requirements differ by facility. Some places only accept seniors who are continent. Not all centers offer supplies or trained staff to change adult briefs. Other senior centers require some specific mobility for those attending (such as able to stand to get out of a wheelchair on their own). 

More intensive care and supervision are available at specialized adult day health centers. These places employ a registered nurse on staff who can help seniors take their medications, monitor stability and provide certain types of therapy to promote healthy aging. When contacting your AAA or a day center directly, provide information up front regarding ability to pay and the physical condition of the applicant. This guarantees accurate enrollment information.

Medicaid-covered dental care:

Due to complicated billing processes and slow government reimbursement, very few dentists accept Medicaid. To find a dentist in your state that accepts Medicaid, contact your State Department of Health. There are dentists who can come to your home if your elder is no longer willing to venture out, however this is expensive.

There are a limited number of dental practices that accept Medicaid, so seniors might have to travel to receive these services. In New York state, for instance, the Department of Health website only lists about 40 dentists that accept Medicaid per 20 million people. 

Free dentures:

It is genuinely possible for low-income seniors to receive a free set of dentures. So besides calling your AAA to see if they can refer you to any resources, try contacting your state dental association and any nearby dental colleges. These organizations will be able to direct you to free or low-cost dental programs.

State pharmaceutical assistance programs (SPAPs):

Select states offer drug assistance programs to seniors and individuals with chronic and life-threatening illnesses. For those in Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia, Vermont, Washington State or Wisconsin, there is access to a SPAP that can help you afford prescription medications. Income and residency requirements, co-pay amounts and coverage details vary from state to state. Contact your state’s department of health and/or human services for details. Low-cost prescription drugs:

Even with these Medicare Part D and state-run assistance programs, many seniors still cannot afford their medications. This means most pharmaceutical companies provide assistance for our elders who cannot afford their medications. A comprehensive list of these programs is on the Partnership for Prescription Assistance website as well as the instructions to apply. Another cost-saving strategy is to make the switch to generic drugs. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “Generic drugs are important options that allow greater access to health care for all Americans. They are copies of brand-name drugs and are the same as those brand-name drugs in dosage form, safety, strength, route of administration, quality, performance characteristics and intended use.” These drugs cost about 80 to 85 percent less. Speak with your doctor about making the switch.

National family caregiver support program (NFCSP):

The NFCSP gives funding to states for support of informal caregivers. AAAs often administer these programs in conjunction with other community-based organizations and providers. NFCSP services are designed to supplement efforts of family caregivers. They offer counseling, training, support groups and respite care. Phone and Internet services:

LifeLine is a federal government program for low-income consumers that provides discounted phones (either landline or wireless cell phone) or internet services.

To qualify, seniors must currently participate in some form of government assistance, such as Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Visit LifelineSupport.org to see if you qualify.

Free phone for the hearing impaired: 

CaptionCall is a service founded by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). It provides free captioned telephones to those with medically recognized hearing loss. Eligible seniors must obtain a signed certification of hearing loss from a medical professional. CaptionCall also offers a free mobile application through the Apple App Store allowing users to receive captioned phone calls on an iPad.

Supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP):

This program used to be called “Food Stamps.” It provides monetary assistance to low-income families so that they can afford nutritious food. Apply through your AAA or SNAP office. Each state has slightly different requirements based upon income, household size and countable resources. Visit the USDA SNAP website for a list of nationwide office locations and states that offer online applications. Locate soup kitchens, food pantries and other resources at Feedingamerica.org.

Free hearing aids

Buying a new hearing aid can run into the thousands of dollars. It’s no wonder that seniors are hard pressed to pay for these devices. Fortunately, there are a few ways to obtain free and discounted hearing aids. Some programs offer new devices and others provide used ones: 

First, try your local Lions Club. Most chapters either operate or know of a hearing aid bank that can match needy seniors with recycled hearing aids. Contact manufacturers to see if you can volunteer for a clinical trial. When the trial is over, you typically get to keep the product. 

Free legal help

Many seniors and their caregivers are in need of legal advice. From small estate planning issues, to power of attorney documents, drafting letters to creditors, or help with Medicaid applications - free and discounted legal help is available.

Check with your AAA, local law schools and state and local bar associations. Some directly offer reduced fees or pro bono services or know of other programs and attorneys who do. The VA also provides some services for veterans, and the Legal Services Corporation specifically assists low-income individuals with legal matters.

Medical alert systems

Medical alert devices are invaluable to seniors. They provide independence to caregivers who need some peace of mind. A person only needs to push a button on their device to summon help in the event of an emergency, such as a heart attack or a fall. The devices come in wearable wristband and pendant forms, or as base stations that can be placed strategically throughout the home.

 There are different systems to choose from. The differing features, costs and contract terms can make it hard to compare. To minimize costs and maximize benefits, look for a system that only involves a monthly fee (about $35 on average), does not charge a device fee and features an in-house response service rather than an outsourced one. When a loved one hits that button, you want a response from a trained, competent professional who can calmly contact emergency services and stay on the line until help arrives. LifeStation and Rescue Alert are two companies who offer this simple fee structure and reliable service.

Free walkers or rollators

If you are looking for discounted or free mobility aids, try thrift stores and local non-profit organizations. Hospitals and nursing homes may also periodically dispose of reliable, used equipment at a lower price. Some hospice companies will donate into a local warehouse where medical equipment is then given away for free. Contact your local hospice companies to find this.

Low income home energy assistance program (LIHEAP)

Through your local AAA, you can apply for assistance to efficiently heat and cool your home. Help is provided either in the form of weather upgrades to your residence or as direct cash assistance for energy costs based upon your income level. 

Weather upgrades make homes more energy efficient and are provided through the Low Income Weatherization Assistance Program (LIWAP). LIWAP can help families install insulation, repair or replace HVAC systems and seal doors and windows. One little-known fact about HEAP is that it is available to both homeowners and renters, making it more widely accessible for low-income seniors.

If you would like to discuss these resources with one of our Home care consultants, please phone us at 707-586-1516.

Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, www.homeinstead.com/sonoma to educate and encourage seniors and caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She would love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.