By Tony Rovere| Last Updated
Most seniors these days are living on limited incomes from sources that may include Social Security, a small pension or maybe some other form of government assistance. With few resources at their disposal, finding affordable products and services is crucial. While numerous resources exist, most of them are either difficult to find or largely unheard of.
Your local Area Agency on Aging (the names of these offices may be different in your area) is the best place to begin when looking for assistance. Local charities and nonprofit organizations, such as the Lions Club and Meals on Wheels, can also be great sources of help.
In my opinion, the most valuable items for seniors and their caregivers—things like free hearing aids and free dentures—are also the most difficult to come by. From my experiences as a caregiver, I have compiled a list of useful and affordable services and a roadmap for finding them.
Free and Discounted Services for Seniors and Their Caregivers
- Benefits Counseling
How many times have you, either as a senior or as a caregiver, wrestled with trying to figure out what type of help was available to you? Free counseling is available through your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) that can point you in the right direction. You can get answers regarding health insurance coverage, food stamps, income assistance and other benefits through these counselors.
- Adult Day Care
Adult day care centers may be run by government entities, local charities, or even religious groups. The purpose of these centers is to provide seniors with a safe place to socialize, engage in activities and eat a hot meal in a supervised setting. Adult day care is ideal for seniors who cannot remain alone but do not need the intensive care that a nursing home provides.
Your local AAA will probably be able to direct you to a local provider, or you can conduct a quick search in AgingCare’s Adult Day Care Directory for a facility in your area.
When it comes to paying for adult day services, 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 are different for each facility. For example, some centers will only accept seniors who are continent because they do not offer supplies or trained staff to change adult briefs. Other facilities may require a certain amount of mobility for those attending (i.e. they are able to get out of a wheelchair on their own or with minor assistance). More intensive care and supervision are available at specialized adult day health centers. These facilities have a registered nurse on staff and can help seniors take their medications, monitor their health, and provide certain types of therapy to promote healthy aging.
When initially contacting your AAA or a day center directly, give them as much information up front regarding ability to pay and the physical condition of the applicant so they can give you accurate enrollment information.
- Medicaid-Covered Dental Care
Due to complicated billing processes and slow government reimbursement, there aren’t many dentists that accept Medicaid. To find a dentist in your state that accepts Medicaid, contact your State Department of Health.
Keep in mind that because there are a limited number of dental practices that accept Medicaid, seniors might have to travel to receive these services. For example, in my home state of New York, the Department of Health website only lists about 40 dentists that accept Medicaid. That’s not a great number for a state with a population of nearly 20 million people.
- Free Dentures
As incredible as it may seem, it is possible for low-income seniors to receive a free set of dentures. In addition to 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 illnesses like end-stage renal disease. If you live 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, you may have access to an SPAP that can help you afford your prescription medications.
Income and residency requirements, coverage details, and copay amounts vary from state to state, so be sure to contact your state’s department of health and/or human services for details.
- Low-Cost Prescription Drugs
Despite the advent of Medicare Part D and state-run assistance programs (outlined above), many seniors still cannot afford their medications. Fortunately, there are other sources of help. Many pharmaceutical companies provide assistance for those who cannot afford their medications. You can find a comprehensive list of these programs on the Partnership for Prescription Assistance website as well as the instructions to apply for assistance.
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.” Generic drugs cost about 80 to 85 percent less than their brand-name equivalents, so it makes all the sense in the world to speak with your doctor about making the switch.
- National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP)
The NFCSP provides funding to states for the support of informal caregivers. AAAs often administer these programs in conjunction with other community-based organizations and providers. NFCSP services are designed to supplement, not replace, the efforts of family caregivers. They include counseling, training, support groups, and respite care.
- Discounted Phone or Internet Services
LifeLine is a federal government program for qualifying low-income consumers that provides discounted phone (either landline or wireless cell phone) or internet services. To qualify, seniors must have an income at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines or 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 and to find participating companies in your state.
- Free Phone for Hearing Impaired Individuals
CaptionCall is a service funded by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that provides free captioned telephones to those with medically recognized hearing loss. To be eligible, a senior must obtain a signed certification of hearing loss from a medical professional. CaptionCall also offers a free mobile application through the Apple App Store that allows users to receive captioned phone calls on an iPad.
- Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP)
This program used to be called “Food Stamps” and provides monetary assistance to low-income families so that they can afford nutritious food. You can apply through your AAA or local SNAP office. Each state has slightly different requirements based upon income, household size and countable resources. I have found that most states offer a website where you can learn more about the program and apply online. Visit the USDA SNAP website for a list of nationwide office locations and states that offer online applications.
- Other Free Food Services
In addition to programs such as SNAP, local charities and governments offer programs that provide seniors with a nutritious meal (typically lunch) and the opportunity to socialize. Transportation may be provided as well. Check with your local AAA to see what programs are available in your area. Local food banks are another source of assistance for low-income seniors. 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, so it’s no wonder that seniors are hard pressed to pay for these devices. Fortunately, I have found that 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. Another approach is to seek out clinical trials of new hearing aids. Contact manufacturers to see if you can volunteer for a trial. When the trial is over, you typically get to keep the product. You will have to meet medical qualifications for the trial, and you may have to contact several manufacturers until you find one that works for you. Sometimes there are waiting lists for trials, but this can be a great way for seniors to receive free hearing equipment.
- Free Legal Help
Many seniors and their caregivers are in need of legal guidance. Whether you need assistance with small estate planning issues, 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 to see if they 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 can be invaluable to seniors who wish to maintain their independence and caregivers who need some added 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 for easy access.
There are a number of different systems to choose from, but their differing features, costs and contract terms can make it hard to compare them. 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.
This last point is particularly important. When your 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
A walker will typically cost at least $40, and rollators are even more expensive. That can be a lot of money for a senior. If you are looking for a discounted or free mobility aid, try thrift stores and local non-profit organizations. Hospitals and nursing homes may also periodically dispose of reliable, used equipment at a lower price point.
- 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.
- Long-Term Care Ombudsman Services
Each state has an ombudsman program whose sole purpose is to “address complaints and advocate for improvements in the long-term care system.” Ombudsmen are somewhat similar to union representatives. They are trained to investigate complaints and ensure that residents of nursing homes, assisted living facilities and board and care homes are being treated fairly.
If you feel a resident is being neglected, exploited or abused in a long-term care facility, getting the ombudsman’s contact information is easy. It must be prominently displayed in all nursing home lobbies. You can also find this information on the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care website.
- Residential Repair Services
Need some minor work done around the house, but can’t afford the labor? Many AAAs run a residential repair service that offers minor upgrades and adaptations to homes or rentals to make them safer and more conducive to aging in place. You may have to pay for supplies, but the labor is typically provided for free by volunteers.
- Wandering Programs
Individuals who care for seniors with dementia are often concerned about wandering. Getting lost on foot is worrisome enough, but if a senior is driving with dementia, the consequences can be very serious. There are many ways to combat this. One way is through a Silver Alert program, which is a public notification system that broadcasts information about missing persons with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and other mental disabilities in order to expedite their location and return. These programs vary by state. Some require preemptive registration of vulnerable seniors, while others simply require a person to contact their local law enforcement agency in the event a cognitively impaired driver goes missing.
Another wandering program is Project Lifesaver. This nationwide program requires advance registration and is offered by many public safety agencies, such as police departments, fire departments and search and rescue organizations. These agencies provide a small transmitter for wanderers to wear. The watch-like device transmits a unique signal that can assist trained law enforcement officials and emergency responders in locating a missing person. Costs vary for enrollment in this program, so locate a participating agency in your area and contact them for additional details.
I have used many of these services to assist me in my role as a caregiver and hope that this list is useful to you and your family as well.
Tony Rovere became involved with seniors and caregiving after his mother suffered a heart attack. His website, StuffSeniorsNeed.com, is a resource for seniors and caregivers who can benefit from his personal experiences as a caregiver.