Tag Archives: Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan

Caregivers Corner: Empowering Seniors with Technology

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By Regina Salmi and Kendrick Heinlein, Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan


The use of smartphones, tablets and computers has become firmly integrated into our daily lives. Even the most resistant adopters of electronic devices in their daily lives often find themselves on the way to their local library or a family member’s house in order to ‘get online’ to complete an important task. Fast-moving technologies can make once simple tasks like banking or ordering from a catalog difficult for those who have not stayed up to date with changes.


While in many ways it can seem like technology has overtaken our lives, it has brought us many opportunities we previously didn’t have. Being able to place a video call to grandchildren who may live miles and miles away from us, or to consult with a physician and get help without an appointment, enriches our everyday experience. Using electronic devices can also empower us, increase our independence and safety, and reduce isolation by connecting us to our communities.


In May, the Pew Research Center (2017), released results on a study of the use of technology by older adults and the results indicated a significant increase of electronic devices in the few years. Since 2011, the use of smartphones among older adults increased 35%. Today 4 in 10 adults age 65+ own a smart phone. There were similar increases in tablet use. One third of seniors own a tablet, like an iPad, which is a 19% increase from 2010. These results indicate that older adults are just as connected as other age groups, yet for many older adults, their devices seem more a hindrance than a help in their daily lives.


While 75% of older adults surveyed in the Center’s study are online several times a day, only 26% of those same adults feel confident in their use of electronic devices. There are several factors that contribute to this experience, but one of the main ones is the feeling of disorientation that older adults sometimes experience when they first get a smartphone, tablet or computer. Well-meaning family members, may get a device for a family member, set it up for them with passwords and security questions they don’t share with the new owner, and then become impatient with them when the device isn’t working properly.


Seniors will often limit themselves to only using features of their devices that they are certain they know how to operate, like making a phone call or playing a favorite game, missing out on a world of functions and apps that can actually enhance their lives and help them continue to be independent.


There are many organizations working to help seniors become more comfortable and proficient on using electronic devices throughout the nation. Public libraries are a great resource for seniors to learn the basics about how to use computers and even tablets and smartphones. Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan (AAAWM) is developing a class to teach seniors how to use their devices, and show them specific applications available that can support their independence and connection to their communities. We’ll also teach seniors how to protect themselves from scams while on the internet.

On Tuesday, August 22nd from 1-3 pm as part of Family Caregiver University, AAAWM will be introducing our new technology class. On this day, participants will learn the best ways to integrate new technology into the lives of older adults, some of the assistive technologies built into many devices, review apps that can help caregivers manage their lives, as well as give a preview of an upcoming course designed specifically to help seniors use mobile devices like a smartphone or tablet. The class will take place at Area Agency on Aging located at 3215 Eaglecrest Dr. NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49525.

For a full list of Family Caregiver University classes provided by the Caregiver Resource Network, please call 888.456.5664 or go here.

Caregiver’s Corner is provided as a public service of the Caregiver Resource Network. The Caregiver Resource Network is a collaboration of West Michigan organizations dedicated to providing for the needs and welfare of family and professional caregivers within the community. Funded by the Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan with Older American’s Act Title IIIE, Family Caregiver Support funds.

Caregivers need time off to take care of themselves

By Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan

Being a caregiver is one of the most difficult roles to fulfill, yet with the population of people age 60+ continuing to grow, it is a role that 1 in 3 people find themselves taking on. Some of us are thrust into caregiving due to an illness or an accident. Oftentimes though, we discover that the caregiving role has crept in and slowly taken over our lives.

It might start out simple — taking a loved one to the grocery store on occasion. Then occasionally turns into every Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. along with doctors’ appointments several times a month. On these trips you notice difficulties with money or paperwork, so you double-check their bills, discover they are overpaying, and now you’re a shopper, bill payer, and health advocate. Sarah Sobel, LMSW, Caregiver Resource Coordinator at Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan said, “When I talk with caregivers, often times I go through some daily living tasks and I ask them about how much assistance they are providing to their loved one with these activities. Many caregivers don’t realize how much they are providing assistance on a daily basis until it is reflected back to them.”

We discover we’ve become a caregiver and didn’t even know it.

What starts out as lending a hand gradually grows into another job. The National Alliance for Caregiving estimates that caregivers spend at least 20 hours per week caring for a loved one. Yet, many people in this position still don’t consider themselves caregivers, especially if their loved one continues to reside in their own home. We regard these tasks as the duties or responsibilities that a spouse, a child, a parent or even a friend undertakes for a person they love, so we juggle the caregiver role with other parts of our lives, like our career, family and social life.

Fulfilling the duties of caregiver without recognizing that we are a caregiver can result in stress, anger and ultimately burnout, putting our own health and well-being at risk.

Sobel said, “This is why I encourage caregivers to build a village — whether formal or informal — for the times when caregiving becomes hard to handle. Do they have a friend they can call to sit with their loved one, while they take a walk? Maybe their loved one is a good candidate for an adult day program — where they might receive some attention and the caregiver can have some time off to take care of themselves.”

When we recognize ourselves as caregivers, we embrace that we are going above and beyond typical expectations, and we also then come to understand that taking care of ourselves is paramount to our being able to take care of others.

This realization also opens doors to resources that can help support us in our new role.

“An important part of my work at Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan,” Sobel shared, “is to provide the caregivers with education. These classes are a great way for caregivers to come together and learn about some of the issues they are facing.”

Taking advantage of the resources available in our communities helps caregivers build that “village” Sobel said is important, “In these classes, caregivers can come together — to share with each other about their experiences” and begin building a support network. Getting connected to resources early can also help us assess the growing needs of the person we’re caring for and, if necessary, get connected to professional caregiving services.

If you’re interested in understanding more about caregiving and the resources available, contact Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan at 888.456.5664 or email aaainfo@aaawm.org. You can also visit the Caregiver Resource Network website. Caregiver Resource Network and Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan can be found on Facebook.

Don’t be duped! Guarding ourselves against fraud

By Regina Salmi

Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan


Every year, millions of Americans are victims of scams or fraud. It is estimated that approximately 11% of the population experiences loss of money or personal property annually. While it can happen to a person at any age, older adults are often the most frequent targets for fraud. Older adults often have access to funds, have excellent credit and own their homes, making them attractive targets for criminals. In fact, older adults lose an estimated 2.9 billion dollars a year to fraud.
These are the current scams particularly targeting older adults:

  • Grandchild Scam: A caller will sound distressed and claim to be a grandchild in trouble or in danger and beg to have money wired to them immediately. The best thing to do is to hang up and call family members to insure everyone is safe and sound.
  • IRS Scam: A person could receive a call, an email or an official-looking letter, demanding immediate payment. They are told information will be forwarded to local law enforcement officials for arrest if they fail to pay. This is not the way the IRS collects debts. If you don’t owe taxes, hang up immediately or delete the email without opening it. If you do owe on your taxes, call the IRS at 800-829-1040 for assistance to pay them.
  • Gift Cards: Many people are being tricked into buying hundreds of dollars in gift cards or pre-paid money cards and sending them to a person in order to receive a prize, pay off a debt, purchase goods or services, or to help a grandchild pay off student loans. There isn’t any legitimate business conducted this way, so refuse any request to pay with gift cards or pre-paid credit cards.

While it seems there are scams everywhere we turn, there are a few ‘rules of thumb’ we can use to protect ourselves from being fooled:

  • If it sounds too good to be true — it is. Criminals feed on our desires by offering us goods or opportunities we wouldn’t, in reality, be able to attain: vacations, money, miracle cures, property, etc. You can be sure there is always a hidden cost and we end up losing much more than we would have ever gained.
  • Never send money to someone you do not know. Any business or government agency you owe money to will send you the request through the mail. If a paperless billing notice arrives in your email and you didn’t initiate it, call the company directly to confirm it is from them.
  • Do not give personal or financial information to someone who calls, emails or shows up at your door. Avoid giving out your bank account, credit card or Social Security number unless you are positive you know who is requesting the information. Businesses you have accounts with will ask you to verify some information to make sure it’s you, like the last four digits of your social security number, but they are confirming your information — not receiving it for the first time.
  • If you get an email or pop-up message that asks for personal or financial information, do not reply, open any attachment or click on any link in the message. Legitimate companies don’t ask for this information by email and you’re often opening a door to identity theft. You also risk downloading viruses or software that collects your personal information and/or disables your computer’s security.

It’s important that we protect ourselves and share tips and information with family and friends who might also fall prey to these schemes. If you’re ever unsure about whether you might be the victim of a scam there are several resources available to you.


The Kent County Elder Abuse Coalition updates current scams frequently on their website: http://www.protectkentseniors.org. You can call them at 855.444.3911.


The Michigan Attorney General also has a consumer alert web page here. If you believe you may be a victim of a scam, you can call them at 877.765.8388.

Senior Living: Thanks and Giving: Volunteer opportunities for older adults


By Amanda Haberlein

Public Relations/Communications Coordinator

Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan


This time of year many may reflect on what they have to be thankful for and for some, this includes a desire to volunteer their time to help others. While older adults are able and welcome to volunteer anywhere, some find it more appealing to volunteer with organizations that cater specifically to older adults. The following agencies either utilize senior volunteers throughout the community or use volunteers to serve older adults specifically.


Friendly Visitor Program – This program pairs volunteers with older adults who feel extremely isolated, lonely or are homebound. Volunteers make weekly social visits with the goal of providing companionship and helping seniors remain mentally and physically active and connected to their community. The Friendly Visitor program accepts volunteers of all ages who want to make a positive impact on the life of a senior. They are partnered with an older adult for flexible one hour weekly visits and are encouraged to commit to at least one year with the program, although many build lasting relationships


To find out more, contact Spectrum Health Visiting Nurse Association Volunteer Services at 616-486-3956.


Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) – This organization pairs older adult volunteers with non-profit agencies within Kent County.  Senior volunteers can work in a number of ways including transporting older adults to medical appointments, providing other older adults with companionship, serving in food pantries and tutoring early elementary grade students to increase literacy, and much more. RSVP staff can help volunteers identifying opportunities within these focus areas that best match with their interests and/or skills.


For more information, contact Senior Neighbors’ RSVP program at 616-459-9509


congregate_20meal_20high_20res-2Senior Companion Program –The program trains and provides a stipend for low-income seniors to care for older adults who are homebound, frail or who have mental and/or physical disabilities. Volunteers may come to the home to provide companionship for the senior, a break for a family caregiver, or companionship and support at a congregate meal site where seniors eat together. These visits often help older adults overcome feelings of loneliness and isolation some older adults experience.


For more information on this program, contact Senior Neighbors at 616-459-6019.


Meal Drivers and Packers – Meals on Wheels Western Michigan is always looking for volunteers to either help package or deliver home delivered meals. Volunteers can be any age and ability who are interested in helping provide nutritious meals to homebound seniors.


For more information on this program, contact Meals on Wheels West Michigan at 616-459-3111.


Still want to volunteer, but none of the above opportunities seem like a good fit for you? Check out Heart of West Michigan United Way’s Volunteer Center for opportunities organized by topic, location and keywords. For more information, visit http://connect.hwmuw.org/


For more details on Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan or services specific to older adults, visit www.aaawm.org or call at 616-456-5664.

Senior Living: Open Enrollment Season for Medicare Starts Oct. 15


By Amanda Haberlein,

Public Relations/Communications Coordinator for the Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan


Each year Medicare offers an Open Enrollment period for those who have a Medicare Part D prescription drug program. Open Enrollment begins Oct. 15 and lasts through Dec. 7 and is the time when Medicare beneficiaries are encouraged to review their current plan and determine if it is still the best option to fit their current needs. This is the only time during the year that beneficiaries can make changes to their prescription coverage so it’s important that they review all the factors when making their decision.


areaonagingIn fact, the Michigan Medicare/Medicaid Assistance Program (MMAP) which utilizes volunteers to help people make informed health care decisions, including choosing a prescription coverage plan, recommends people follow the five steps below during Open Enrollment.


Five Steps to Choosing the Best Medicare Part D Prescription Coverage:


Review your current plan. Experts recommend that everyone reviews their current plan, even if you are happy with the coverage you have received. Plan information can change each year resulting in changes to medications that are covered, premium prices and even the co-pay amounts. Just because your current plan has met your needs, doesn’t mean it will continue to for the next year. Make note of any changes you see in your current plan and if they don’t work for you be sure to look at the other options available. If you are still happy with your current plan after you’ve reviewed any updates, simply do nothing and you will remain enrolled in the same plan.


Consider ALL your medications. It’s not uncommon to be prescribed a medication that you weren’t taking at this same time last year. Be sure to have a current list of all the medications you are taking and check each one against the plan you are considering to see if it’s covered and what the cost will be. Don’t assume that just because it is a low cost medication or well known drug that it will be covered in all plans. A simple way to start is to visit www.medicare.gov and input all your medications. They will then generate a list of plans that will cover those prescriptions. Again, you need to review those plans for things such as premiums, co-pays and coverage amounts before making a final decision.


See if you qualify for help. Experts encourage those on a fixed income to see if they qualify for help through the Extra Help, Medicare Savings or the Medigap Subsidy Program. Extra Help is a Social Security program that helps to reduce or eliminate prescription plan premiums, deductibles and copays for covered medications. The income limit for the Extra Help program is $1,505 for a single and $2,023 for a couple (asset limits of $13,640 for single and $27,250 for a couple). The Medicare Savings Program is a Medicaid program that will pay the Medicare Part B premium, with income limits of $1,010 for single and $1,355 for a couple (assets must be below $7,280 for single and $10,930 for a couple). The Medigap Subsidy Program through the Michigan Health Endowment Fund will provide assistance with Medigap premiums if the beneficiary has a participating policy. The income limits for this program are $1,485 for a single and $2,003 for a couple, with no asset limit. The financial assistance plans can make prescription costs more affordable for those on fixed incomes. Experts say often people are unaware that these programs are available to help and can often make a big difference for those who qualify.


Don’t procrastinate!  Even though Open Enrollment seems like a long time, experts encourage people not to procrastinate and to start researching early. “We encourage people to start right away, this way if they run into questions they have time to get their questions answered and they aren’t left scrambling,” said Bob Callery, Program Coordinator at MMAP. “During Open Enrollment, our volunteers across the state as well as those that work at Medicare receive a lot of phone calls and it may take a day or two to return calls and sometimes longer, depending on the call volume. Any technical glitches with the medicare.gov website can make people anxious, so we always encourage starting early.”


Ask questions! Changes to your Medicare Prescription coverage can only be made during open enrollment, which means if you make a mistake you will be stuck for the rest of the year. Mistakes can translate into increased costs and confusion about coverage.  Experts encourage asking questions to make sure you understand your coverage. “Medicare and the Prescription Drug Plans can be confusing for a lot of people, which is why we have volunteers to help,” said Callery. “If you have questions, you can look at the Medicare.gov website, call Medicare directly or call MMAP. We just ask that you understand we may not be able to return your phone call the same day, depending on call volume, but we do everything we can to answer all the questions that come to us.”


Experts also encourage those with the Blue Cross Blue Shield Legacy Medigap plans to contact MMAP today as Blue Cross Blue Shield announced this summer that they are raising the monthly premium for these plans starting January 2017.  For many people, these premium prices can be a significant increase to their monthly budget.  MMAP volunteers can help individuals review their options if they are enrolled in one of the BCBSM Legacy plans and wish to find a better option.


The Michigan Medicare/Medicaid Assistance Program (MMAP) is a free and unbiased statewide program made up of volunteers who can help you sort through Part D information. Volunteer counselors have gone through extensive training and can help navigate the maze of Medicare and Medicaid. To speak with a counselor, contact 1-800-803-7174.


Have questions on services for older adults and caregivers? Contact the Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan at 616-456-5664 or 888-456-5664 or visit  www.aaawm.org for more information and resources.