Seniors plan for the future, then take part in it

Some Alaskans are preparing, but not all are ready for the challenges

Posted: Wednesday, November 07, 2001

Most people hope to be old someday, but few are prepared for it.

"All of a sudden your face doesn't look like you anymore. You're full of wrinkles," said Juneau Senior Center Director Ellen Northup. "People shouldn't wait until they turn 62 or 65 to find out stuff. They should start preparing before that."

Some preparations seem obvious to the 92,000 Alaskans who will turn 65 by 2020, a three-fold increase in the state's senior population. Making a will is one of the most common requests at Seniors' Legal Services, a program for people 60 and over funded by the Alaska Commission on Aging.

Supervising attorney Mark Regan recommends living wills and written directives specifying the kinds of health care people do or do not want. He also suggests durable powers of attorney, which give a relative or friend the ability to make decisions if a person becomes incapacitated.

"That's a planning thing that someone can do at the age of 20, as well as at the age of 75 or 80," Regan said.

Juneau resources for seniors

* Senior Information Office: Volunteers answer questions about where to find care, housing and medical equipment from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. weekdays. Call 586-4300 or drop by the office at the Juneau Senior Center, 895 West 12th St.

* Senior Community Service Employment Program: Offers training and part-time work for low-income seniors 55 and older. Call 465-4872.

* National Senior Service Corps: Trains and coordinates volunteers for five programs including foster grandparents and senior companions. Volunteers 55 or older are provided stipends. Call 790-3613.

* AARP: National association active on senior issues provides checklists and suggestions for families taking care of aging parents or grandparents. Anyone 50 or older can join for $10 a year. On the Web at or call Juneau chapter President Joe Sonneman, 463-2624. The Alaska AARP Information Center in Anchorage can be reached at (888) 805-1540 or

* Juneau Senior Center: Offers free hot lunch, social activities, senior information and health promotions for anyone 60 or older from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday in the Mountain View Apartment Complex, 895 West 12th St. Call 586-6231.

* Douglas Senior Center: Offers free hot lunch, social activities, senior information and health promotions for anyone 60 or older from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday. At the Douglas Community United Methodist Church, 1106 Third St., Douglas. Call 364-3161 or 463-6154.

* Valley Senior Center: Offers free hot lunch, social activities and health promotions for anyone 60 or older from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Next to St. Paul's Catholic Church, 9059 Atlin Drive off of Mendenhall Loop Road. Call 463-6154 or 789-9508.

* Meals on Wheels: Hot lunches delivered between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday through Friday by a volunteer. Donations of $3 encouraged. Reservations can be made from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Call 586-6231.

* Bridge Adult Day Program: Care for adults 60 and older who are physically impaired, socially isolated, needing assistance with personal care, or limited in their ability to function independently. Open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday. Call 586-4852.

* Care-A-Van Transportation: Door-to-door transportation and errand service Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. It does not travel past the Auke Bay Ferry Terminal. Reservations recommended and donations of $1 to $2 per ride encouraged. Call 586-4482.

* Juneau Pioneers' Home: State-run residential home offering varying levels of care for Alaskans 65 or older who are no longer able to live independently. The initial application saves a place on a waiting list, which can be activated when needed. Call 780-6422 or 465-4416.

* Alaska Commission on Aging: State commission charged with planning, advocacy, grant-making and administration, and interagency coordination on senior citizen issues. On the Web at, e-mail or call 465-3250.

* Choice: Alaska's Home and Community Based Medicaid Waiver Program, which may pay for increased services to be provided in a client's home and/or community. Call (907) 269-3666.

* Alaska Medicare Information: Information, counseling and assistance with Medicare, Medicaid and other health care issues. Call (800) 478-6065.

* Seniors' Legal Services Project: Provides legal advice, representation in court and administrative hearings, referrals, community education and training on legal issues at no charge to anyone 60 or older. Helps with wills, consumer issues, getting benefits, health care and housing issues. Call 586-6425 or (800) 789-6426.

* Adult Protective Services: Investigates and resolves reports of alleged psychological and physical abuse, neglect, self-neglect, or financial wrongdoing to senior citizens. Call (800) 478-9996.

* Long Term Care Ombudsman: Investigates and resolves violations of older Alaskans' health, safety, welfare or rights, including allegations of abuse or neglect within assisted-living homes. E-mail or call (800) 730-6393.

* Southeast Senior Services: Offers homemaker services, care coordination and case management, in-home counseling and other services for anyone 60 or older. On the Web at or call 586-6233.

* Hospice and Home Care of Juneau: Pain management, medical care and bereavement services for the dying and their families. Call 463-3113.

Occasionally, seniors come in for help with bankruptcy, usually because they've been overwhelmed by medical bills, Regan said. Some get $1,000 worth of prescription drugs every month.

"There's someone sitting there with a pension of $900 a month and $40,000 of medical bills coming in," Regan said. "Medical care is very expensive. Things work perfectly if you're covered, and things don't work very well if you're not."

Taking care of parents often makes people aware of how they need to plan for their own aging.

"One thing I have learned is you need to get all your ducks in a row before you get to this point," said Pat Costa, who cares for her father.

He had put money aside, so he's covering the $5,000-a-month cost to stay in an assisted-living home, but Costa wonders whether there will be enough.

"We figure the rate Dad's going and the rate he's hanging on, he's going to use it all up," Costa said. "And well he should. He earned it."

When Costa retires, she plans to sign up for long-term care insurance, which would cover the cost of a nursing home or assisted living, if it becomes necessary.

"It will make my monthly (retirement) checks less, but I don't ever want my children worrying like I have to worry," Costa said.

Melinda Cavanaugh also plans to get long-term care insurance, after seeing what her mother, who has Alzheimer's disease, pays for health care and prescription drugs.

"I tell my husband, we think we're saving for retirement. We're really saving for medications," Cavanaugh said.

Saving for retirement is important too, though nearly one-third of Americans don't, according to a survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a nonprofit think tank.

Preparing for later years is not just a matter of saving enough retirement money, experts say. People lay the groundwork for their old age throughout their lives in the families they raise, the community ties they build, the hobbies they develop and the habits they have, said Steven Zarit, a gerontologist at Pennsylvania State University.

Zarit recommends people keep in shape physically, mentally and socially. The most important habit at any age is exercise, and Zarit urges people to start no matter how old they are.

Bob Thibodeau is a case in point. At 79, Thibodeau seems a decade younger. He walks every day and swims twice a day. He also credits healthy living for his ability to remain active and enjoy his retirement.

"That has a lot to do with what your lifestyle was and your foods and your activities," Thibodeau said. "Most of our friends who had drinking problems or are heavy smokers, they're gone. They don't make it."

Thibodeau also has a large and close family. He and his wife, Aurelia, raised 12 children and now have 28 grandkids. He e-mails a weekly letter to the ones who left Juneau. Five of their teen-age grandchildren often stop by for lunch during the school year because the Thibodeaus live near Juneau-Douglas High School.


"You have to make it that way. I find that a lot of older people, when they lose their spouse or family, they withdraw," said Thibodeau, who has seen peers isolate themselves by staying home and spending too much time watching TV. "You (need to) reach out to other people, especially in this town where your relations, your family, has gone to someplace else."

Although family is important, don't expect more than your family can give, said Zarit, the gerontologist. Before they retire, people need to develop friendships and social ties outside of work that can last into their final years, "so when you need help it's not just your children who are your whole world," Zarit said.

Seniors also need something that matters to them, whether it's volunteer work or a hobby, Zarit said.

"It puts them in contact with people, but it also gives them a sense of involvement and pleasure, a sense of meaning to life," Zarit said. "These are things we often depend on work for, and when people stop working they need other things that matter to them."

Hobbies also can keep people's brains active, which is necessary to retain mental clarity. Zarit urges people to challenge themselves mentally every day.

"It might be doing a crossword puzzle. It might be reading. It might be learning something you want to learn," Zarit said. "This helps people when they're older function better. It may even help a little bit to ward off the onset of Alzheimer's disease.".

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