By Lawrence D. Weiss
For Senior Voice 

Seeking solutions: Alaska seniors plan for big changes

 

March 1, 2020



Part three of three.

What are the big issues that create uncertainty, havoc, even tragedy in the lives of Alaska seniors? In the course of building the Alaska State Plan for Senior Services FY2020 –2023, thousands of Alaska seniors were engaged in conversations that revealed their answers. Here is a selection of some of those issues and strategies, along with major organizations tasked to address them during the period of the latest plan, 2020 – 2023. But first, a smattering of background.

Part one of this series (Senior Voice, December 2019) provided an overview of the Alaska State Plan for Senior Services FY2020 –2023, and an introduction to key demographic and socio-economic issues faced by Alaska seniors. Part two (January, 2020) focused on the findings of listening sessions and surveys with thousands of Alaska seniors. This article moves to the next step — the practical matter of solving problems. The report identifies problems, solutions and organizations which will play a leading role in addressing the identified problems.


Abuse, neglect and exploitation

“Exploitation of seniors through internet marketing, scams and fraud is a growing concern,” notes the report. “Particularly for those seniors or caregivers seeking in-home assistance using un-vetted internet sources or providers who are not affiliated with a certified agency, consumers and caregivers report receiving sub-standard care. Public education and other resources are needed to bring awareness to seniors and to help them to be wise consumers of in-home supports and other services.” Some lead organizations are: Adult Protective Services, Office of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman, Division of Public Health/Section of Public Health Nursing, and Alaska Legal Services.

Food security and senior hunger

The report describes how barriers to healthy food access are often magnified for seniors who live on fixed income, have less reliable access to transportation, and are more affected by chronic illness. “Seniors in Alaska who may have at one point supplemented their food budget with subsistence living practices, may find themselves less physically able to engage in these activities.” The report lists strategies to counter this:

Increase access to traditional Alaska Native foods, subsistence harvests and other culturally important foods in senior centers, assisted living homes, and skilled nursing facilities;

Maintain the number of seniors receiving support through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as well as congregate, home delivered, and Title VI meals.

Some lead organizations in this area are: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Division of Seniors and Disabilities Services, Alaska Commission on Aging, and AgeNet.

Transportation

The report notes that seniors, especially those who can no longer drive, need reliable transportation to activities, medical appointments and visits to family and friends. However, transportation services are often patchy and uncoordinated, the report states. “Furthermore, the majority of places seniors live in the state are not walkable, so car or bus can be the only way to leave the house. Winter conditions impede seniors from accessing bus routes that do exist.”


The primary corrective strategy identified in the report is, “Increase or at least maintain the number of seniors accessing assisted transportation.” Some lead organizations are: AgeNET and Alaska Commission on Aging.

Financial security

“Most seniors live on a fixed income, so when utility prices increase, the amount of money that seniors have to spend on things like food and activities decreases,” states the report. “Long-term care services are difficult to plan because senior needs for support can be variable and unpredictable. Furthermore, the cost of assisted living is prohibitive for many Alaskan families.”


Major strategies to address this include:

support and promote awareness of safety net programs that benefit seniors;

provide education so that seniors and caregivers understand financial and long-term care planning.

Some lead organizations in this area are: Alaska Commission on Aging, AgeNET, AARP, Division of Seniors and Disabilities Services, Aging and Disability Resource Center, and Alaska Pioneer Homes.

Family caregiver supports and quality of care

Family caregivers need resources to help them identify the questions to ask when selecting service providers, the difference between certified and private providers, and increased awareness of the Aging and Disability Resource Centers,” states the report. “While agencies providing grant-funded or Medicaid-billable services are regulated by the State of Alaska, many private providers are not.”

One major improvement may come via a federal grant Alaska received in 2019 to develop and pilot standardized screening, assessment and care plan for the caregivers of individuals experiencing dementia. The goal is to reduce caregiver burden and improve care for the recipient to extend the amount of time a caregiver is able to provide care at home, according to the report.

Some lead organizations in this effort include: Alaska Commission on Aging, Alzheimer’s Resource of Alaska, AARP, and the Alaska State Division of Seniors and Disabilities Services.

The report discusses all of these and a number of other issues and strategies in greater detail. It is available for viewing and download at the Alaska Commission on Aging website at http://dhss.alaska.gov/acoa/. Look on the home page for a copy of “Alaska State Plan for Senior Services, FY2020-FY2023.” Alternatively, call 907-465-4793 for a copy or more information. It is an extraordinary document well worth looking at.

Author Bio

Lawrence D. Weiss is a UAA Professor of Public Health, Emeritus, creator of the UAA Master of Public Health program, and author of several books and numerous articles.

 
 

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