The First Step in Seeking Care: Area Agencies on Aging

This article is part of a series addressing the challenges families face while caring for elderly parents. I will highlight not only community resources available to cope through these difficult times but also share what experts in the field have learned from assisting families in similar situations. This article addresses community resources that you may turn to for advice, even before your parent needs supportive assistance.

Article on Area Agencies on Aging servicesAs appealing as retirement communities appear—no housekeeping or cooking—many seniors would rather spend retirement at home, remaining self-sufficient and handling life’s responsibilities much as they have always done. This independence is admirable, especially when you hear of seniors in their 90s still living at home and remaining active. However, when the desire to remain independent results in a denial of a genuine need for care, this can lead to crises that are stressful for all. What seniors and their families should know is that requiring assistance doesn’t mean sacrificing independence or moving into a nursing home. There are community resources readily available to enable seniors to remain in their home.

Often, people don’t look for information until there is a crisis, and by then, they are at their wit’s end, says Cathy Knight, state director for the Washington State Association of Area Agencies on Aging. She recommends that families take a proactive role in identifying supportive services even if assistance isn’t needed right away. And the local Area on Agencies on Aging should be the first place that families should turn to for guidance; our job is to help people remain safely in their homes, Knight explains.

Despite the valuable services that these agencies provide, don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of them, as Knight says one of their difficulties in reaching people is not having a marketing budget. Since their establishment in 1973 under the Older Americans Act, local Area Agencies on Aging have connected families to businesses and nonprofit organizations that provide services such as in-home care or transportation. These agencies are found in every state, and the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging’s directory lists the agencies and tribal associations within each state.

As part of their mission, these agencies are tasked with identifying available community services, saving families time and effort, and the types of programs and services available at each agency may differ depending upon how well the region’s services are funded. At a minimum, Area Agencies on Aging provided access (e.g., information and assistance, transportation or case management), community based, in-home and elder rights services. In Washington State, the Area Agencies on Aging also play a key role in administering the state’s Family Caregiver Support Program (which will be discussed in an upcoming article).

Our agencies are “always a good place to go as a starting point,” Knight says, and you can turn to them for any issue, whether finding assistance for a senior in your neighborhood whose health is visibly deteriorating or seeking advice on how to care for a parent with substance abuse or mental health issues.

Andrea Watts is a Seattle-based freelance writer who covers senior living, sustainable forestry and agriculture issues. Her writings have appeared in publications that include TimberWestThe Forestry Source and Acres U.S.A.

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