Online Resources for Seniors

Here are the 10 best web sites for seniors and their families.

CARING FOR AN elderly loved one can be laborious, confusing and, sometimes, heartbreaking. While we can't help with the emotional side of things, we can try to make the logistics easier to handle.

We scoured the Internet looking for helpful web sites and online tools -- and found a bevy of information. We learned that seniors can sign up for Social Security benefits from the comfort of their own homes; that families can make a side-by-side quality comparison of nursing homes in their area; and that there's a web site that can tell readers which public and private benefits their parents are entitled to receive. We'd also like to remind readers that has some useful tools, including our Long-Term Care Insurance Evaluator and our Retirement Worksheets.

A potential danger with going online for information: There are always unscrupulous people out there looking to take advantage of the elderly. A site that appears legitimate could be anything but, warns Scott Parkin, spokesman for the National Council on Aging. It's almost certain, for example, that in the near future sleazy operators will try to take advantage of the new Medicare Legislation by hawking prescription-drug cards online, says Parkin. We recommend sticking with sites from government and nonprofit organizations, as well as trusted companies.

Here are links to 10 web sites that we found particularly helpful for both seniors and the family members who care for them.

1. Eldercare Locator
Seniors searching for local resources for the elderly, such as adult daycare centers, can now plug their zip codes into the U.S. Administration on Aging's web site and retrieve links and phone numbers for state and county offices. They can also call 800-677-1116 and speak with an Information Specialist who has access to a database of more than 4,800 entries. The Eldercare Locator service operates Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

2. BenefitsCheckUp
Seniors can save themselves the hassle of making dozens of phone calls by filling out one simple questionnaire at this site. The National Council on the Aging's database will sort through more than 1,100 federal, state, local and private programs to see which benefits a particular senior qualifies for. The possibilities include prescription assistance, nutrition programs, property-tax programs, veterans' assistance and housing assistance.

This is a must read for anyone over 65. It explains all the ins and outs of Medicare and how to file an appeal if a claim for coverage gets denied. It also answers caregivers' questions on long-term care.

Steps to Choosing Long-Term Care helps caregivers analyze a senior's needs and suggests the appropriate level of care necessary. It can help one decide, for example, whether Mom can continue to live on her own, or if she needs the supervision of a nursing home.

The Nursing Home Compare and Home Health Compare are tools that can help families locate the safest facility or home health-care agency in their area. As one might expect, they'll also show which ones take Medicare.

4. Consumer Consortium on Assisted Living
Don't expect to find any annual federal inspection surveys in assisted-living facilities. They aren't as closely regulated as nursing homes and home health-care agencies, since most residents pay for them out of their own pocket. As one can imagine, finding unbiased information on assisted-living facilities is also difficult. The closest we could come up with is offered by the Consumer Consortium on Assisted Living, a nonprofit consumer-advocacy group that educates seniors and their families on assisted-living facilities in general. Its web site tells readers which questions to ask when touring a facility and how to identify red flags. For a directory of facilities, try the industry's trade group, the Assisted Living Federation of America.

5. Social Security
As we mentioned earlier, there's no need to wait in line at the Social Security office. Now, potential beneficiaries can simply log on to the Social Security Administration's web site and click on the Social Security Benefits Application. The site also offers a benefit calculator that shows how much a reader's Social Security check might add up to. 6. ElderWeb
Think of ElderWeb as the Google search engine for elder issues. This sourcebook links users to articles and other web sites that answer questions ranging from the new Medicare drug program to elder law and estate issues. One of the most helpful links we found was a page dedicated to helping people find lost records, including marriage and birth certificates. Such documents are often necessary when managing a parent's affairs or making insurance claims. We were hard-pressed to find a question ElderWeb couldn't answer.

7. National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys
In addition to good doctors, seniors should also employ lawyers they can trust. There's far more to worry about than just writing a will -- living trusts, durable power of attorney, estate planning and health-care proxies are just some of the areas that must be dealt with. The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys' web site is an excellent place to start. Not only will it explain the importance of each document, but it also boasts a directory that can help readers find an elder-care attorney in their area.

The best-known web site for seniors is It offers easy-to-understand articles on a multitude of topics and boasts a Medicare Drug Benefit Calculator to help beneficiaries figure out how much they'll be spending for their prescriptions come 2006. Members receive special discounts on various products and services, and can buy AARP drug discount cards and insurance products.

9. National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers
As we said, caring for elderly loved ones is difficult. Geriatric-care managers can help, by doing everything from assessing a parent's long-term care needs to guiding the adult-child through the fragmented health-care system. For more information and a directory of practitioners, check out the national association's web site. (Click here to read our recent article on the subject.)

10. Family Caregiver Alliance The Family Caregiver web site offers a virtual community for the estimated 50 million Americans caring for a loved one. Its primary purpose is to disseminate information on the current social, public-policy and care-giving issues this large and growing group faces. Readers can tap into priceless information and search for local community resources.