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Social Services

Accessing Social Services

Older adults who want to use public social services often encounter a hostile and demanding environment. Many public social services are underfunded, and staffed with professionals who deny services more often than they provide assistance. Older adults can find the regulations and paperwork intimidating and frustrating. Getting satisfactory service from a provider can require persistence and assertiveness. Indeed, older adults frequently benefit from having a family member or friend serve as their advocate as they seek assistance.

Before contacting an agency, it helps to spend some time thinking about the problem and what might be done to address it. In addition to a written description of the problem, older adults may want to collect the following information before contacting a potential service provider: Their latest tax return, or other information about income and assets; the potential client’s age, medical diagnoses, and functional abilities; a list of family members and friends who can provide assistance; and times and dates when they are available for an appointment.

It is rare to find the right service provider upon first contact, so it is best to begin the search for service by phone rather than in person. The caller is advised to keep a log of contacts, as the first person or agency contacted may not be the right one. The log should include the name and title of each person contacted, the date of the contact, and what the person said. This will prevent the famous ‘‘runaround,’’ in which providers focus more on referring an older adult to other providers than on what their own organizations might be able to do to help.

Most of the publicly funded services available through AAAs can be purchased in the private market. The classified sections of newspapers in any major city will reveal individuals who offer their services to care for elderly people. The dilemma, for families who have the means to purchase assistance on their own, is how to select a qualified provider. Here, too, the AAA can be of assistance. Many information and referral programs maintain files of private providers who have been screened by agency staff. Other agencies, such as visiting nurse services and hospice organizations, might also be able to provide a list of providers who have been screened. Regardless of the source of the referral, individuals purchasing care through private sources must be vigilant to prevent the abuse or exploitation of their elderly loved ones.

Additional topics

Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 4Social Services - Early Approaches To Serving The Elderly, Social Services To Prevent Nursing Home Placement, The Range Of Social Services Available Today