Wisconsin Community Resources for Seniors
It can be challenging for seniors to find quality care when they need it. Many seniors and their caregivers initially feel lost when they need long-term care and senior resources. Fortunately, there are dozens of free community resources accessible to families throughout the United States dedicated to connecting seniors with the best care providers. This guide covers federal and state resources as well as nonprofit programs available at no cost to Wisconsin seniors.
Wisconsin senior care options
Home care services
The IRIS (Include, Direct, I Self-Direct) Program is a Home and Community-Based Services Medicaid Waiver (HCBS) available to Wisconsin seniors who demonstrate long-term care needs. To reduce the growing populations of nursing homes throughout the state of Wisconsin, the IRIS Program was created to make home-based care options more affordable. Now, low-income seniors interested in receiving in-home care may participate in the IRIS Program to pay for their care services.
To qualify for IRIS, a person must be financially eligible to receive Medicaid in Wisconsin. Additionally, a person must require a nursing home or intermediate level of care (LOC) to participate in IRIS. To learn more about the IRIS program, contact a local ADRC, or email the Office of IRIS Management at DHSIRIS@wisconsin.gov.
To learn more about the FCSP, Wisconsin residents should contact their County or Tribal Aging Unit.
The Administration for Community Living (ACL) is a nationwide resource for seniors seeking information about home care services in their community. By connecting with the ACL, seniors can learn more about their options for home care and can receive assistance hiring an in-home assistant. Seniors who want to know more about the ACL’s resources for home care should call the administration’s main office at (202) 401-4634.
Seniors may also consider connecting with the National Age in Place Council (NAPC) to learn more about their options for home care. The NAPC’s primary purpose is to educate seniors and ensure they are receiving high-quality service from their care provider. Families can learn more about the NAPC and their resources for seniors by visiting the program’s website or by calling the appropriate local council chapter using the online NAPC local chapter locator.
Wisconsin sponsors a statewide program for seniors, called the Senior Companion Program (SCP). The SCP helps seniors connect with companions in their community so they may have company as they run errands or eat meals. Companions can help seniors in many ways: They might assist with grocery shopping, cleaning, cooking, and other chores, or they may spend each visit playing cards and socializing. It all depends on what each senior wants and needs.
Seniors participating in the SCP must be over the age of 60 years old, they must be homebound, and they must be at risk for placement in an institution. Married individuals can qualify to participate in the SCP, but participants are generally expected to live alone. Over 160 volunteers currently serve as companions through the SCP, allowing the program to be free-of-charge for participants.
To learn more about the SCP, visit the Wisconsin Senior Companion Program website, or call (414) 906-2779 to reach the Social Development Commission in Milwaukee. Tribe members should contact the Great Lakes Inter-tribal Council Senior Program at (715) 588-3324.
Family caregivers in Wisconsin may participate in FCSP to access resources which may help them become better caretakers. All of the FCSP’s resources are free to those who meet either the caregiver or care receiver qualifications. The FCSP’s resources include counseling for caregivers, informational resources designed to connect caregivers with services in their community, caregiver training, and short-term respite services.
To qualify as a caregiver, a person applying for the FCSP must be a Wisconsin resident, they must be over the age of 18, and they must provide regular care for a person over the age of 60 or a person diagnosed with dementia (like Alzheimer’s disease), regardless of their age. Care receivers must be Wisconsin residents, and they must require continual assistance from another person.
The Caregiver Action Network (CAN) is a popular resource for free information for family caregivers throughout the United States. Caregivers can access a free forum on CAN’s website, where they may have discussions with other caregivers or ask advice, as well as a free Family Caregiver Toolbox. The Toolbox offers numerous informational articles about caregiving, designed to help create better caregivers through education.
The National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) is another free resource available to seniors nationwide. The program’s website offers dozens of free articles for caregivers, in addition to their published research and information about advocacy projects.
Finally, caregivers may also want to consider the many resources available from the American Red Cross. Caregivers can access courses on CPR and First Aid. The courses are free and are administered in both online and traditional classrooms. Caregivers who want to take a course with the Red Cross with the Red Cross should locate their community chapter and contact them for more information.
Respite care services
Although family caregivers can be an excellent alternative to facility-based care for seniors, all caregivers require a break at some point to tend to their personal responsibilities. Respite care services can make these temporary breaks possible, allowing caregivers to take some time away from their responsibilities.
Family caregivers in Wisconsin can access respite care resources through the Family Caregiver Support Program (FCSP). The FCSP offers a range of supports to seniors and their families, including free information regarding respite care. By participating in the Wisconsin FCSP, caregivers can learn about quality respite care services in their community so they may make informed decisions regarding their family member’s care.
Caregivers seeking respite care for a family member may consider using the ARCH Resource Center (sponsored by the National Respite Coalition) to learn more about their options. The ARCH Resource Center contains information pertaining to many areas of respite care. Anyone may access the Resource Center, and the entirety of its information is free to the public. Their website features a respite care locator, which family caregivers may use to quickly locate respite services in their area.
Hospice and palliative care
Along with federal programs for hospice and palliative care, individuals nearing the end of their lives may access to Wisconsin's state resources for end-of-life care. Each of Wisconsin's counties and Native American Tribes
The ADRC’s resources are free to any Wisconsin residents who want to learn more about quality end-of-life care. ADRC’s can help people locate affordable, quality care providers, help them apply to government benefit programs (like Medicaid or SSI), and serve as a general access point to health care resources for seniors. Hospice and palliative care are among the types of services residents can be connected with by working with their local ADRC.
Wisconsin residents may access an ADRC’s services by calling their county’s main ADRC office, or they can arrange an in-home visit from one of the office’s representatives if it is more convenient. Seniors may locate their county’s ADRC by using the Aging and Disability Resource Center office locator provided by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (WDHS). Wisconsin seniors who are part of a tribe can use the Tribe-specific Wisconsin Aging and Disability Resource center locator to find the resources specialist for their tribe.
The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) is a free resource for anyone in the U.S. with a terminal illness. The organization offers free counseling and connects members with low-cost hospice and palliative care in their community. TO learn more, visit the homepage or call (703) 837-1500.
Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia
Since 1985, Wisconsin has sponsored a statewide support program for families suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Known as the Alzheimer’s Family and Caregiver Support Program (AFCSP), the program offers free resources designed to help meet the needs of caregivers assisting individuals with Alzheimer’s disease.
To qualify for the AFCSP, a person must have a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease (or another type of dementia), and they must demonstrate financial need. The AFCSP is available to all counties and tribes throughout Wisconsin, and the program’s services are free to participants. Participants are eligible to receive up to $4,000 in free services through the AFCSP, including respite care, counseling, and adult day care.
Family caregivers who want to learn more about the AFCSP should contact the Wisconsin Bureau of Aging and Disability Resources at (608) 266-2536.
The Alzheimer’s Association (AA) is the primary resource for families of those impacted by the disease. Families can access free counseling from the AA 24 hours a day by calling the Alzheimer's Association helpline. Additionally, families may access any of the AA’s hundreds of informational publications to learn more about dementia and how they can best care for someone who is suffering. To learn more about the AA and how families can benefit from the organization’s free resources, call their helpline at 1 (800) 272-3900.
Medicare beneficiaries in Wisconsin can receive additional assistance, education, and counseling through the State Health Insurance Assistance Program Wisconsin's State Health Insurance Program (SHIP). By participating in SHIP, Medicare beneficiaries are able to learn more about their benefits, both through in-person interactions and over the phone. The programs available through SHIP in Wisconsin include:
- The Medigap Helpline: 1 (800) 242-1060
- The Wisconsin Medigap Part D and Prescription Drug Helpline (for People Age 60 and Over): 1 (855) 677-2783
- The Disability Drug Benefit Helpline: 1 (800) 926-4862
- Indian Law Office of Wisconsin Judicare Inc: 1 (800) 472-1638
Fitness and nutrition
The Elder Nutrition Program (ENP) sponsors free events throughout Wisconsin where seniors may partake in a free meal. Each meal is designed to meet at least ⅓ of a senior’s nutritional needs, and anyone age 60 or older may participate - regardless of their income. Meals are served at each of Wisconsin’s 515 community dining centers, and most offer at meal every Monday through Friday around noon. Additionally, man dining centers sponsor free health and nutrition programs for families where they may learn more about senior nutrition at no cost.
Seniors who are homebound may arrange to have a free meal delivered to their home through the ENP. To arrange home deliveries, a nutrition program administrator will visit the person and determine if they qualify. Meals are delivered by compassionate volunteers and can be delivered either frozen or ready-to-eat, depending on the person’s preference.
The National Resource Center on Nutrition and Aging (NRCNA) offers free informational resources regarding senior nutrition to all citizens of the United States. Their resources include caregiving classes, information nutrition programs, and hundreds of free educational articles regarding senior health and nutrition. To learn more about the NRCNA and the resources they offer, call their office directly at (703) 548-5558.
To learn more about the nutrition programs available in your area, contact your local County or Tribal Aging office.
Fitness and recreation
The Center for Health Aging (CHA) sponsors several programs designed to help seniors get moving and stay active. Each program has its own primary focus, like improved mobility, flexibility, or strength. The CHA’s programs are free and serve as an excellent opportunity for seniors to socialize while maintaining their health. To learn more about the CHA’s senior fitness and recreation programs, visit the program’s website or call a representative at (571) 527-3900.
The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) can be a helpful resource for seniors, particularly for members of the organization. Those who sign up as members of AARP may receive discounts at local stores and restaurants, in addition to informational resources targeted to educating seniors about aging. Some of AARP’s resources are free to the public, while most of what they have to offer is only available to members. To learn more about AARP’s services or becoming an AARP member, visit the organization’s website or call 1 (888) 687-2277.
Medicare and Medicaid are the primary federal benefit programs available to seniors in the United States. Over 55 million seniors are currently enrolled in Medicare, making it the primary payer of senior health care costs in the country. Medicare is not a free program, and there are no financial limits for who may purchase a Medicare policy.
Medicaid is the primary health insurance benefit program for seniors in the state of Wisconsin. The federal government partially funds Wisconsin’s Medicaid program, however, the state determines many of the program’s decisions. Those who qualify for Medicaid in Wisconsin may receive free or low-cost health insurance to pay for medical bills and long-term care.
To qualify for Medicaid in Wisconsin, a person must meet the program’s financial requirements, and they must have a medical need for the services they want to be covered. For example, a person may not receive coverage for a nursing home if they do not require a nursing home level of care, as determined by a physician.
Families who want to learn more about Wisconsin’s Medicaid program should contact the Wisconsin Benefit Specialist for their county or tribe. The Benefit Specialists offer free information to residents who want to know more about Medicare, Medicaid, and disability benefits before they apply.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers their own benefit programs, however, seniors must have served on active duty in the Armed Forces to qualify. Veterans may choose from several benefit packages, each has its own eligibility qualifications and coverage limits. Which plans a person may qualify for depends on whether or not they suffer from a service-related injury, and to what extent their injury impacts their life.
Legal assistance for seniors
Adult Protective Services are available in Wisconsin for seniors who feel they are being abused or neglected. Wisconsin residents may report a possible at-risk senior by calling their county helpline and reporting the information they know. Seniors may also contact their county helpline to receive legal assistance as they fight against elder abuse. To learn more, visit Wisconsin’s page on Elder Abuse, or locate the appropriate county elder agency to speak with a representative.
Senior transportation services in Wisconsin are operated individually by each county. Some counties offer van or bus services for seniors, while others sponsor volunteer ride programs. To learn more about which senior transportation services are available in which counties, contact the appropriate County or Tribal Aging Unit.
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.