California Community Resources for Seniors
The state of California has many resources in place to help seniors and their families cope with the challenges of aging. This guide covers California resources for senior care, meals, recreation, financial assistance, tax preparation, legal advice, transportation, and more.
California senior care options
Many elderly individuals need more help with the activities of daily living and household tasks than they once did. While some seniors live in assisted living facilities or nursing homes, others receive care in their own home or live in the home of a family member.
The California Department of Aging administers a variety of programs for older adults and their families. The main telephone number is (800) 510-2020. They also administer the Area Agencies on Aging — Find the AAA nearest you for more information.
Those who need help securing housing can contact the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The Congress of California Seniors is a group that holds workshops, meetings, and conferences based on topics that are of interest to seniors. Their telephone number is (916) 442-4474 in Sacramento or (562) 448-4806 in Long Beach.
Home care services
Some individuals wish to remain in their own homes or in the home of a relative. If they have assistance needs, an in-home caregiver might be a good option. A caregiver might provide nursing services (like changing dressings or injecting medication), help with activities of daily living (like getting dressed and using the toilet), and/or household task assistance (such as shopping or light housework).
In California, the Multipurpose Senior Services Program (MSSP) provides social and health care services for those who are eligible for nursing home care but would prefer to remain at home. Those who are eligible for Medi-Cal (California’s Medicaid program) are eligible for this service.
California residents with Medicare can access Medicare-approved home health agencies in their area. For those who are not eligible for Medi-Cal, contact the closest Area Agency on Aging to get help on finding a provider.
You can also search for a provider through the Department of Social Services and the California Care Planning Council. The Eldercare Locator is a national site you can use to find in-home care for your family member.
Those who are caring for elderly family members sometimes need respite care, a temporary type of care designed to give family caregiver a short break to attend to personal business, travel, or simply recharge.
The Family Caregiver Support Program is administered by the local Area Agency on Aging. This program can help caregivers find respite care as well as counseling and other types of family support. Call (800) 510-2020 to be connected with the local information line.
There is also an online consumer guide from the National Respite Network and Resource Center for family members who need to respite care for their relatives.
Adult day care
Adult day care provides care to elderly individuals who cannot be left home unattended during the day while their family caregivers go to work or attend to other business. In general, there are two types of adult care. Those who need general supervision and assistance with things like using the bathroom or getting dressed often go into social care. Those who have more extensive health care needs often need specialized care.
The California Department of Social Service facility search allows you to find an adult day care program for your family member.
You can also get a referral from the local Area Agency on Aging. They will be able to tell you whether your relative qualifies for Community-Based Services, or you can call the Community-Based Services department directly at (916) 419-7545.
The Eldercare Locator is a national service that can help you find adult day care providers. Use the website or call (800) 677-1116.
A senior center is a place that offers a variety of resources to the senior citizens in the surrounding community. The centers vary, but most of them provide meals, information on nutrition, recreational programs, information about educational and volunteer opportunities, various social activities, and more. Most activities are free, but sometimes there is a cost or a membership fee. The California Care Planning Council maintains a list of senior centers by county.
Hospice and palliative care
As the end of life approaches, it’s important for seniors and their family caregivers to have the support and services that they need. Hospice care is for those who have six months or less to live. This type of care is focused on keeping the individual comfortable, rather than treating a disease.
Services include palliative care (comfort and pain relief), counseling, social services, and support for the family.
Medicaid, Medicare, and private insurance all cover hospice services. There are also grants and other funds available for those who do not have coverage. The goal for hospice providers is to serve everyone who needs services.
You can also search for hospice care providers and learn more about hospice from the California Hospice and Palliative Care Association. Their telephone number is (888) 252-1010.
Finally, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization offers a variety of helpful resources to those going into hospice and their families.
Alzheimer’s disease (and other dementias)
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease that causes dementia and other symptoms in those who have it. It generally affects senior citizens, though some people do develop early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
There are 10 Alzheimer’s Disease Centers in California that improve dementia care. Go to the website to find the one closest to you or call them at (916) 558-1784.
The Alzheimer’s Association is a national organization that provides advice, information, and referrals. Enter your zip code to find the one closest to you or call their helpline at (800) 272-3900.
The federal government’s National Institute on Aging offers information about Alzheimer’s disease, relevant news, resources for patients and caregivers, and information on upcoming and current clinical trials at Alzheimers.gov. Their telephone number is (877) 696-6775.
Finally, BrightFocus is a non-profit organization that strives to help those with Alzheimer’s disease by promoting research.
Health care information
California has many hospitals, in fact, they come in second (behind Texas) for the state with the highest number with 341 of them. In addition, the Golden State has a wide variety of medical centers, specialists, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other types of health providers.
The Medical Board of California allows you to look at the licenses and other information about doctors and health care providers in the state.
Another resource for this type of information is the AMA Doctor Finder. The Doctor Finder provides information on licensing, educational background, types of insurance accepted, and even office hours. Physician Compare is a tool to help seniors locate Medicare-participating doctors in the local area.
While Medicare Part D only covers some prescription costs, there is also a low-income subsidy available for those who qualify. The California Prescription Assistance Program offers discounts on prescription medications to anyone living in California.
There is also a Pharmacy and Vision Care program for those who qualify for Medi-Cal (California’s Medicaid program). The telephone number is (800) 541-5555.
For those with low incomes and no dental coverage, Medi-Cal offers a dental program that can cover the cost of dental treatment. Use the Medi-Cal Dental Program provider search to find a participating dentist or call (800) 322-6384.
Health insurance can be a confusing topic, particularly during the senior years, when more services are often needed. California residents have some resources available to help them understand all of their options.
The California Department of Insurance has compiled a guide to choosing health insurance. They also answer questions at (800) 927-4357. Those who currently have health insurance and need help with their plan can call (888) 466-2219.
In addition, there is the Seniors Information Center, with health coverage for those over the age of 65.
California residents can apply for health insurance through CoveredCA. This insurance will automatically refer you to Medi-Cal (the state Medicaid program) if you qualify. If you or your family member would like, help with the CoveredCA application is available by calling (800) 300-1506.
Seniors also have the option of applying for health insurance through the federal Healthcare Marketplace. There are subsidies available for those who have low incomes. Find out about your eligibility by visiting Healthcare.gov.
Senior nutrition and fitness
Two of the simplest ways to stay as healthy and fit during the senior years is to eat nutritious foods and to stay active. For some, however, this can be a challenge. Several California programs are available to help seniors meet their nutrition and fitness needs.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is a nutritional financial assistance program (often called, “food stamps”). Every state has their version of this program — In California, it’s called CalFresh. The program provides people with a prepaid card that can be used to purchase unprepared food (most grocery store food items). You or your relative can apply for CalFresh online or call (877) 847-3663.
SNAP-Ed is an educational program run by the local Area Agencies on Aging, it helps seniors who receive SNAP make better nutrition and fitness choices. Contact the nearest Area Agency on Aging to find out more.
The California Department of Aging also administers two nutrition programs for at-risk seniors. One is a congregate meal program, where nutritious meals are served in a social setting, such as at a senior center. The other is a home-delivery program, where the meals are delivered to the homes of shut-in or ill seniors. Call (800) 510-2020 to inquire about these services.
Meals on Wheels is a nonprofit organization that delivers meals to homebound seniors and, in some cases, their spouses. Sign up on the website to locate the agency closest to you.
The Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) provides funds for senior citizens to purchase fresh produce from local farmers’ markets. You can find your local contact on the state’s 2018 SFMNP AAA Contacts list.
Fitness and recreation
Most senior centers sponsor fitness and recreation programs for the elderly in their communities. The local Area Agency on Aging will have information about the programs available in your city or town.
SilverSneakers is a free fitness program geared toward helping Medicare-eligible seniors stay active and healthy. Use the website to see if there is a participating gym or fitness center near you.
AARP is a group that focuses on helping seniors and retired people live healthy, active lifestyles. Membership benefits include discounts on health services, entertainment, and travel. There are also community events and volunteer opportunities.
The National Park Service also offers a reduced fee pass to seniors who would like to spend time enjoying the National Parks. The cost is $10. Call the National Park Service at (518) 474-0456.
Government benefit programs
There are national programs that are available to residents of all states, including California. Here are some of the most common ones:
Seniors over the age of 65 who have worked for more than 10 years, or whose spouses have worked for more than 10 years, are eligible for Medicare. Medicare is not just one plan, however; there are four separate plans available:
- Medicare A: A free plan that covers inpatient care at hospitals and other facilities, as well as some types of home health care
- Medicare B: Available for a sliding fee depending on your income. This plan covers services including preventative care, ambulance services, durable medical equipment, and mental health care
- Medicare C: A private insurance option that may cover services not included in other Medicare plans, including dental and vision care
- Medicare D: A prescription drug coverage plan
Seniors can apply for Medicare at Medicare.gov up to three months before their 65th birthday. The telephone number is (800) 633-4227.
Medicaid is a federal health insurance program for low-income Americans that is administered by each state. In California, Medicaid is called Medi-Cal. You can apply for Medicaid online or call (800) 300-1506.
For those who live in assisted living communities or nursing homes, Medicaid waivers can help with expenses. You can apply for them on the Medi-Cal website.
There are 1.8 million veterans living in the state of California and eight veterans’ homes. These homes provide a variety of services for elderly and disabled veterans and, in some cases, their eligible spouses. Find out more about them on the CalVet website.
The California Department of Veteran Affairs is a good source of information for veterans and their families. Contact your local County Veteran Service Officer to learn about benefits, including Aid and Attendance, which can help pay for nursing home or other long-term care.
Tax preparation assistance
Seniors often find that their tax situation changes or becomes more complicated as they retire, sell their homes, or begin accessing investment accounts. There are programs in California that can provide free tax preparation for seniors. AARP Tax-Aide helps adults over 50 who can’t afford to pay for tax preparation. You can call them at (888) 687-2277.
The California Department of Aging funds Legal Services Projects, which is a service providing legal assistance and advice to senior citizens. Some of the cases they will assist with include elder abuse, housing issues, fraud, Medicare, Medi-Cal, age discrimination, conservatorship, and more. Contact the local Area Agency on Aging or call (800) 510-2020 for more information.
The California Attorney General is another resource for those who need legal advice, assistance, or referrals. Call (800) 952-5225 to find out more.
The Long-Term Care Ombudsman is a good legal resource for those in long-term care facilities like nursing homes or assisted living facilities. To request general information, call (800) 510-2020. If you have an urgent matter, call (800) 231-4024.
At some point, all seniors have to make the decision to stop driving. In some communities, public transportation is widely available and accessible, but in many more rural areas, it isn’t. Because California is so diverse in terms of the types of public transport in each area, the local Area Agency on Aging is the best way to find out what is available locally.
Seniors who wish to continue driving in California may be asked to take a driving test at the Department of Motor Vehicles. This is because due to common vision issues and the potential for slow reflexes to develop during old age.
Even those who have not been asked to take a driving test should understand that there are some conditions that can make driving difficult or even dangerous. The AARP and AAA offer classes to senior citizens that can help them drive more safely. Go to the websites to sign up for one of these classes in your area.
Proximity of care is very important when considering options
Research care options that are nearby when thinking about the next step for your loved ones.
Leona J. Werezak RN, BSN, MN is a registered nurse and adjunct nursing professor. She has 24 years experience working in a variety of healthcare settings including such remote locations as the Arctic Circle. Her research in early stage dementia was published in the Canadian Journal of Nursing Research and re-published in their 40th anniversary issue which showcased exceptional research published since the journal began. Her work in dementia care has also been published in the Journal of Gerontological Nursing. She currently teaches surgical nursing care on a thoracic/vascular unit to baccalaureate nursing students. Her clinical work with nursing students involves extensive work with older adults who have multiple chronic health conditions.