One of the many challenges faced by older adults and caregivers during COVID-19 has been confusion about community resources, as availability has been continually in flux. Even prior to COVID-19, finding reliable, up-to-date resource information has long been a challenge for both urban and rural aging populations, and resource searching tends to begin only after there is a crisis. With the added confusion about resource availability during the pandemic, information seeking became a major source of stress for many families.
Senior Access Points responds
Senior Access Points of Larimer County was established in 2017 to help reduce barriers to accessing information and to connect older adults and caregivers to aging-related resources. SAP organized a community coalition, led by CSU Extension, to explore how to best address the information access issue, especially given that survey data from the Larimer County Community Assessment Survey for Older Adults consistently showed a decrease in older adults’ confidence with finding community resources.
SAP’s website, LarimerSeniors.org, was built as an accessible resource that has been used by thousands of older adults in Larimer County and their family members across the country. Rather than offering a “clearinghouse” of information, this website directed people to key “access points” that helped them get started on their resource searches.
“Aging research tells us that when residents and their families know what types of resources are available in their local community to support changing needs as they age, they tend to be more satisfied with care decisions and experience less stress in decision-making processes,” said Allyson Brothers, an assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies and SAP co-founder.
Common resources that families can find at LarimerSeniors.org include:
- dementia resources
- caregiver support groups
- caregiving planning tools to help families communicate and track important information
- assistance registering for Medicare
- information about cost and availability of living options
One of the benefits of having a website developed within a University system is that the sources are trustworthy and safe so caregivers, older adults, and their families do not have to worry about being misled.
“Since frauds and scams are popular online, the SAP website brings peace of mind to older adults and their families. We verify all resources before posting them on the SAP website,” said SAP intern, Jessy Jiao.
In 2019 there were 3,869 website users on LarimerSeniors.org. In 2020, that number jumped to 6,241 users.
When COVID-19 hit, the SAP team quickly recognized the importance of providing daily information updates on LarimerSeniors.org. SAP was able to direct older adults to new services that were coming online and changes in resource availability. Additionally, there were regular postings about getting connected, helping out, and options to decrease social isolation. However, by far the most utilized page on LarimerSeniors.org in the last year was the one that maintained an updated list of senior grocery shopping hours. Currently, the vaccination information page is getting significant attention.
The pandemic also changed SAP’s outreach strategies from in-person to virtual.
“It presented opportunities for our outreach volunteers to get creative and find education outlets that we didn’t consider before,” said Cheryl Noble, SAP’s project coordinator. “We turned to media, church bulletins, and social media to name a few. We continued to expand our awareness during a critical time when updated resources were needed.”
Help from the community
Senior Access Points relies on its community partners and volunteers to get the word out about LarimerSeniors.org and to share the phone number to the Larimer County Office on Aging (970-498-7740), which has Options Counseling available to help guide older adults and their families through the complexities of community resource access.
“We are only able to reach isolated older adults with this information because of the deep networks of our partner organizations and their willingness to point people in the right direction when they have an issue that needs to be addressed,” said Sue Schneider, CSU Extension Agent and Senior Access Points Lead.
Over the years that SAP has addressed resource access barriers, there have been some pleasant surprises to come out of the work.
“The biggest surprise about Senior Access Points was the number of people across the country that have been using this website,” Schneider said. “We’re assuming these are family members that have found our site to be helpful in terms of finding resources and local information that could assist their aging relatives here in Larimer County.”
Website redesign and expansion
Given the extent to which the website has been accessed across the country, and the team’s awareness of the need to keep it fresh and mobile-friendly as the use of electronic devices evolves, the SAP team is beginning a website refresh and redesign process. The new LarimerSeniors.org website is expected to be launched in June 2021.
Brothers says she has colleagues across the state who are interested in implementing a tool such as the SAP website.
“At conferences and presentations, professionals and residents from all over the state have asked whether something like this could be available in their area,” Brothers said.
Therefore, in addition to redesigning LarimerSeniors.org, an SAP website template will be produced to allow CSU Extension offices across the state to develop a customized site for their counties or regions. The SAP website can be adapted to any region so that communities can access updated information and critical local resources. An “SAP of Colorado” landing page will house these new regional sites, along with key statewide resources and information on programs and opportunities for aging well.
The SAP team has developed a survey that will help in this website development process. The survey captures information about the primary issues that are leading older adults to look for resources, where they are seeking resources, and what information would be most useful on a resource site.
The team is seeking the CSU community’s help in sharing the survey with older adults and caregivers across the state of Colorado. The electronic survey can be accessed here. For a paper copy, please contact SeniorAccessPoints@gmail.com. Questions about SAP or the website redesign can also be directed here.
About Senior Access Points
Senior Access Points is a coalition of agencies including the Larimer County office of CSU Extension, the Partnership for Age-Friendly Communities, the Larimer County Office on Aging, and CSU’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies.
- Sue Schneider, Extension Agent, Larimer County Extension
- Allyson Brothers, Assistant Professor, CSU Department of Human Development and Family Studies
- Cheryl Noble, SAP Project Coordinator, Larimer County Extension
- Jessy Jiao, Intern, CSU Department of Human Development and Family Studies