As seniors get older, their health needs change, and they often need assistance with tasks they used to handle independently. Alaska offers numerous free resources to help seniors and caregivers manage the changes that come with age. These resources include free or low-cost senior transportation, caregiver training, home care services, respite care, and other services.
Alaska senior care options
It’s common for people to need assistance with their day-to-day tasks as they age. Reduced mobility and increased health issues can make daily activities challenging for seniors. Alaska offers dozens of state and community care options for seniors dedicated to nearly every facet of senior care, whether seniors live alone, with family, or in an assisted living facility or nursing home.
Home care services
Many families find it challenging to locate affordable home care services in their community. Fortunately, many low-cost resources are available to help Alaskan seniors in need.
The Administration for Community Living (ACL)
The Administration for Community Living (ACL) is a federally-operated program serving seniors nationwide. The ACL aims to reduce the number of seniors moving to nursing homes, as facilities across the U.S. are running out of vacancies more rapidly than they can fill them. Through educational efforts, the ACL hopes to combat the problem and make home-based care a more realistic option for seniors.
The National Age In Place Council (NAPC)
The National Age in Place Council (NAPC) offers free online resources for seniors and caregivers who want to learn more about home-based care. Their website offers a template designed to help seniors create long-term care plans. In addition, seniors can access various informational guides created to educate them about their choices for home-based care.
Companions help seniors with basic activities like cooking, bathing, dressing, cleaning, and running errands. The biggest part of a companion’s job is providing conversation and social stimulation for seniors. Alaska does not have a statewide companion program for seniors, but communities typically have their own services for local residents. Seniors should contact their local Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) to learn more about which companionship services are available in their community.
Each of Alaska’s counties offers at least one publically-funded senior center for residents to enjoy. Senior centers are public multipurpose centers where aging adults can interact with peers and engage in community events. Fitness programs, arts and crafts, live music, and computer classes are among the many services seniors centers offer, although this list is not comprehensive.
Senior centers typically offer their general services for free. However, special events and classes may require an admission fee for entry. Some locations offer free transportation services to help seniors get to and from the facility. Alaska residents can use the Alaska 211 information portal to locate a senior center in their community.
Respite care services
Unlike many other states, Alaska does not have a state respite coalition. Instead, Alaskan caregivers should reach out to the state’s Family and Caregiver Support Program (FCSP) to learn about their options for affordable respite care. Those who are accepted into the FCSP may receive respite care services at a low cost (or no cost). However, only qualifying caregivers are eligible. To qualify as a caregiver, a person must:
- Provide regular and consistent care to a family member 60 years of age or older; or
- Care for an adult with Alzheimer’s disease or other qualifying dementias (regardless of age)
Additionally, low-income seniors may qualify for a respite care waiver through Medicaid. The Alaska Department of Health and Human Services offers several waivers for residents to receive respite care coverage, each with different qualifying conditions. Families can learn more about Medicaid waivers for respite support by reading the ARCH Resource Center’s guide or by contacting the state’s Medicaid department directly.
Family caregivers are crucial to millions of seniors who choose to live at home instead of in nursing facilities. Fortunately, there are dozens of state- and federally-funded programs designed to teach them about their role so they may educate themselves and become better caregivers.
Family and Caregiver Support Program (FCSP)
As discussed briefly above, the FCSP offers many services to Alaskan caregivers in need. Free respite care services are only one way the FCSP helps families — other services include individual counselling, caregiver training, transportation, and support groups. Anyone who meets the FCSP’s caregiver requirements may receive their benefits, which are typically offered free of charge. Caregivers can access the FCSP of Alaska online portal through the Home & Community Based Senior Grants website, which offers in-depth information about the program and its services and how to apply.
Caregiver Action Network
The Caregiver Action Network (CAN) offers support to caregivers through various online resources designed to teach them about their roles and help them improve their duties. The CAN’s website offers a free community forum where caregivers can discuss their concerns or share personal advice. The CAN also offers a Family Caregiver Toolbox, which provides caregiving guides and educational articles.
National Alliance of Caregiving
The National Alliance of Caregiving also offers valuable information for caregivers, including free training and informational guides. Their comprehensive collection of resources covers a range of topics about caregiving, which caregivers nationwide may access for free.
The American Red Cross
The American Red Cross offers many free resources for caregivers, like free training and information. The American Red Cross website hosts detailed information about the organization’s free caregiver resources, including CPR classes and courses in first aid. Many of the Red Cross’s courses are administered online and in traditional classrooms, making them highly accessible nationwide for caregivers. Local chapters of the Red Cross can offer more information about their free caregiver and first-aid courses and can provide dates for upcoming events.
Hospice and palliative care
U.S. citizens who are nearing the end of their life may access free resources through the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO). The NHPCO offers free and low-cost hospice care to Americans in need and counselling to families supporting a loved one with a terminal illness. The organization also offers free online classes, informational webinars, and a database of informative articles about hospice and palliative care.
Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias
Alzheimer’s impacts almost 6 million Americans a year, making it one of the most commonly diagnosed diseases in the nation. Because of the disease’s unique nature, there are many resources dedicated to Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers. These resources include the Alzheimer’s Association, which provides nationwide assistance, and the Alzheimer’s Resource of Alaska, which is accessible to Alaska residents.
Alzheimer’s Association (AA)
The Alzheimer’s Association (AA) assists families nationwide who are impacted by dementia, making them the primary advocate for Alzheimer’s in the United States. As the leading nonprofit organization in the U.S. dedicated to Alzheimer’s disease, the AA is widely respected for its research into Alzheimer’s causes and cures and its outreach efforts to families. Although primarily known for their research, the AA also helps families directly by providing information and free counselling to families who need it.
The AA’s resources are accessible to anyone in the U.S. who needs them. Their 24-hour helpline — accessible at 1(800) 272-3900 — is open to all caregivers nationwide who may call for guidance, counselling, and information. The AA also offers adult day care services to anyone impacted by Alzheimer’s disease, where they are supervised by specially trained staff. Caregivers may visit the AA’s website to learn which of the organization’s services are available near them, or they may call their local AA chapter for more information.
Alzheimer’s Resource of Alaska
The Alzheimer’s Resource of Alaska (ARA) is accessible to seniors and caregivers statewide who need assistance coping with the impact of dementia. Their services include respite care, chore services, support groups, counselling, care coordination, and Alzheimer’s education — many of which are free of charge. Each of the ARA’s services is specialized for adults with Alzheimer’s, and the program’s volunteers are trained to improve each participant’s quality of life through compassionate care.
In addition to free and low-cost services, the ARA also gives “mini-grants” to state residents diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease to help them pay for essentials that improve their quality of life. Recipients may use their mini-grant to pay for dental, vision, hearing, and medical services and durable medical equipment and other health-related supplies.
National senior resources
Many senior care resources are delivered on a state level. However, others are operated nationally. These resources are available not only to Alaska residents but to seniors nationwide.
Adults over age 55 may use the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) as a resource during their golden years. The program is available to all Americans over the age of 55, whether they are working or retired.
To get the most out of AARP, seniors must join the organization. Non-members still have access to free resources on their website. Membership is not free, and members must pay an annual fee. However, members receive exclusive benefits (like free health care services and discounts at certain stores and restaurants) which are not available to non-members.
Seniors can use the Eldercare Locator to search for care providers in their community. Because the tool is a database of care providers nationwide, seniors anywhere in the country may use it to find help in their community. The Eldercare Locator is free and accessible to anyone who needs it.
Nutrition and wellness
Many seniors have trouble meeting their nutritional needs as their mobility decreases and preparing meals becomes more difficult. However, a handful of organizations throughout Alaska offer free meals and educational materials to help seniors eat well.
Food Bank of Alaska
The Food Bank of Alaska provides over 300 partner meal programs and community pantries with food, funding, and resources to bring affordable meals to Alaskan residents. Low-income seniors can receive nutritious meals from their local meal program for free if they meet the eligibility requirements. Seniors who want to learn more about resources available through the Food Bank of Alaska should contact the organization directly at (907) 272-3663.
The Division of Senior and Disability Services (DSDS) offers congregate meals throughout Alaska for socially and economically needy seniors. Congregate meals are held at senior community centers, adult day programs, and similar community-based senior organizations. Locations typically host one congregate meal daily, and most are free to attend; some locations may require a small donation for entry but will not deny a person if they cannot afford the fee.
Congregate meals are commonly combined with other senior activities, like educational opportunities to learn about health care and nutrition. Each program has its own requirements for entry, however, congregate meals are typically open to adults 60 years of age or older. Some allow caregivers, spouses, and adults with disabilities to attend, regardless of age.
The Alaska United Way offers a list of congregate meal locations in Alaska on their Alaska 211 website. Residents can locate their county on the list and find a corresponding meal location in their community.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — also known as the Alaska Food Stamp Program — provides millions of residents with financial assistance to pay for groceries. Low-income seniors may participate in SNAP if they meet the program’s financial requirements, and all applicants must undergo a financial interview before they may receive benefits.
Seniors who qualify for SNAP will receive an Alaska Quest card to use their benefits. Each month, a card is pre-loaded with a dollar amount which the recipient may use to buy healthy food. The amount a person may receive each month depends on their income, their household size, and their location — For example, a person with income below the federal poverty limit (FPL) may qualify for more SNAP benefits than someone living above the FPL.
Fitness and recreation
The Center for Healthy Aging (CHA) boasts a handful of programs to increase mobility and overall health. Each of the CHA’s recreational programs targets a specific area of fitness, like walking or weight-lifting. These programs include:
- Active Choices
- Active Living Every Day
- Fit and Strong
- Healthy Moves for Aging Well
- Walk With Ease
Seniors should contact the program manager of the programs they’re most interested in or call the CHA at (571) 527-3900 for more information.
Enrolling in Medicare can be a challenging and confusing process. Fortunately for seniors in Alaska, the State Health Insurance Program (SHIP) offers free counselling and advice during the enrollment process. Seniors can contact a SHIP counsellor to ask questions about enrollment, get information about each plan’s fees, and learn more about the services covered. Each counsellor works as a volunteer, and all of SHIP’s services are free. Seniors can call the local SHIP branch or visit a location for in-person assistance.
As of 2018, roughly 55 million Americans are enrolled in Medicare to receive health care benefits. Medicare qualifies as a public health insurance program, but it is not free to enroll, and applicants do not have to financially qualify to participate. Policyholders typically pay monthly premiums, deductibles, and copayments, which vary depending on their income and plan — For example, plans that cover more services will have higher fees. Low-income seniors can apply for Medicaid and use their benefits to help cover out-of-pocket Medicare costs.
Medicare Part A
Part A offers hospital insurance and covers in-home care as well as inpatient care at a skilled nursing facility. Most Part A policyholders are subject to copayments and deductibles, but many do not pay premiums for their coverage.
Medicare Part B
The second policy type offers medical insurance and pays for durable medical equipment, visits to the physician, outpatient hospital services, and other medical services not covered by Medicare Part A. A Part B policyholder will typically be charged a monthly premium for their plan as well as copayments and deductibles for the medical services they receive.
Medicare Part C
Also known as Medicare Advantage, Part C operates differently than Parts A and B. Medicare Advantage allows Medicare policyholders to receive coverage from private healthcare insurance providers, which may allow seniors to receive services for a lower copayment. Those enrolled in Part C may receive all of the benefits offered in Parts A and B, in addition to extra benefits unavailable through the other two plans, including prescription coverage.
Medicare Part D
The last policy type offers prescription coverage to anyone with Medicare. Policyholders who enroll in Medicare Part D to pay for their medications must pay an additional premium to receive the benefits. As a result, they may obtain their prescription medications at a low cost.
Medicare recipients who need help paying for their plan may enroll in Medicaid for financial assistance. Additionally, many seniors enroll in Medicaid to fill in the gaps left by their Medicare plan, as Medicaid covers many services not included with Medicare.
Only low-income and medically needy seniors may enroll in Medicaid. Medicaid assesses a person’s income and assets to determine their financial eligibility to ensure benefits are only distributed to those in need. Certain goods and services (like long-term care or durable medical equipment) are subject to additional requirements for a person to receive coverage. For example, a person must clinically require personal assistance for Medicaid to provide coverage.
Anyone is allowed to apply to Medicaid, the program is not limited to Medicare participants. Alaska residents should contact their local Alaska Medicaid office to learn more about eligibility and the application process.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers various benefits to qualifying seniors who served in the military and their spouses. Alaska has a state branch for the VA, which serves as the primary advocate for veterans living in the state. A person’s eligibility for benefits through the VA depends on their discharge status, their years of service, and their disability status — veterans sustaining a service-related injury may qualify for prioritized benefits. However, many programs are open to all veterans with a discharge other than “dishonourable,” including VA health care.
Aid and Attendance
Aid and Attendance (A&A) is a monthly pension for seniors who require assistance with their activities of daily living (ADLs). The A&A pension is intended to offset the costs of home-based care and personal assistance, which are common needs for veterans living at home. Veterans who receive monthly pension may automatically qualify for A&A if they require daily assistance, although non-recipients must apply to the program directly. Veterans residing in nursing homes may also automatically qualify to receive A&A benefits.
Veterans should contact their VA caseworker to learn more about their A&A eligibility. In addition, the VA offers general information about A&A on their website.
VA health care programs
The Standard Medical Benefits Package (SMBP) is the VA’s primary health care option for senior veterans. Veterans who were discharged for any reason other than “dishonourably” can enroll in the SMBP, regardless of their social or economic needs. Enrollees do not need to have a service-connected disability to participate in the SMBP.
When a veteran applies for the SMBP, they must submit to a financial screen. The financial screen determines how much an applicant’s copay, premium, and deductible will be should they receive coverage. Low-income veterans and veterans with service-connected disabilities may qualify for copay waivers to reduce the cost of their health care plan.
Enrollees may use their plan to pay for a wide range of health care benefits, including community-based care and long-term care services like:
- Respite care
- Home health care
- Adult day care
- Personal care assistance
Veterans must clinically require the assistance they want to be covered for their SMBP benefits to step in. For example, a person who moves into a nursing home must clinically require a nursing facility level of care for their benefits to apply; a person who willingly admits themselves to a nursing facility without a doctor’s orders may not receive coverage for their stay.
Enrollees should be aware that the SMBP does not cover a facility’s room and board fees. Services which are billed as part of room and board are also exempt from coverage. Care facility residents may only use their benefits to pay for services which are not included in their room and board, like professional therapy or memory care. To learn more, veterans should contact their VA caseworker and ask about their options for health care through the organization.
Legal services for seniors
Eligible seniors may qualify to receive free or low-cost legal assistance from non-profit attorneys and firms in Alaska. Seniors may receive representation in court, divorce filings, will preparation, estate planning, and other legal services through their local organizations, allowing them to get legal help without debt. The available services vary by county, and seniors should contact their local AAA to learn more about their options.
The Alaska Bar Association, the state’s professional association of lawyers, lists each of Alaska’s pro bono legal service providers. Families can find a brief description of each program’s services, learn who operates each program, and see contact information on the site.
Some programs offer pro bono services separated by area of law. For example, seniors with disability-related legal concerns can connect with the Disability Law Center of Alaska to receive services tailored to their needs. The Alaska Legal Services Corporation (ALSC) offers the broadest range of support and assists the most people, with nearly 90 community locations throughout the state. Seniors can receive free legal services through ALSC regardless of their income. However, those in economic need are given priority.
Adult Protective Services
The Division of Senior and Disability Services offers legal assistance to seniors and disabled adults through Adult Protective Services (APS). APS serves Alaskans who cannot protect themselves due to physical or cognitive impairments and steps in when qualifying residents report abuse, exploitation, or neglect. Anyone can report elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation to APS, and their services are free to Alaska residents. In-state callers can contact the APS at 1(800) 478-9996 (out-of-state callers should use (907) 269-3666).
The Office of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman
The Office of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman (OLTCO) serves residents of nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other senior institutions who are victims of neglect or abuse. Seniors can file complaints with the OLTCO about their care facility if they believe the institution is infringing on their rights. The OLCTO is not authorized to help with all types of legal concerns. However, they may assist with guardian neglect, unlawful evictions, prejudiced billing practices, poor housing maintenance, and other similar circumstances.
Seniors may contact the OLTCO at (800) 730-6393 to file a complaint or ask a question. Alaska residents may visit the OLTCO’s website to learn more about how they can assist.
Throughout Alaska, there are 35 organizations that provide free senior ride programs. The goal of these programs is to make transportation to and from medical appointments, social events, shopping, and banking easier for aging adults who do not drive. Each county is served by at least one program, and some counties have two or three senior ride programs available.
Alaska’s senior ride programs provide free curb-to-curb (or door-to-door) transportation, and their vehicles are fitted to accommodate disabilities. Seniors can access the United Way’s online information portal to learn more about senior transportation services in Alaska and find contact information for their local ride programs.
Additionally, many cities offer discounted public transportation fares for adults over 60 years of age. For example, Juneau’s Capital Transit offers free bus tickets to riders who present a local senior sales tax exemption card when they board. AnchorageRIDES offers a similar program, allowing seniors to ride for free if they are going to health care or pharmacy location. Personal attendants may also ride for free if they are accompanying a senior rider. To learn more about reduced bus fares for seniors in Alaska, call the nearest public transit authority or visit their website.