Aging Together: Getting help from the librarian and the ‘Navigator’

I was a babe in the woods a few years back when I moved to Virginia and began helping care for my mother. Her dementia was already quite advanced then. I knew little about Alzheimer’s and even less about caring for someone whose memory, reasoning and personality had all been progressively eaten away by disease. And, like many people in similar situations, I didn’t know the first thing about what kind of help was available or where to look for it.

Many older adults and family caregivers learn that it’s a confusing, complex world out there. While they’re trying to understand what age and disease are doing to them and their loved ones, they might also be struggling with challenges like grasping difficult medical information, choosing and managing caregivers in their home, figuring out Medicaid eligibility requirements or finding long-term institutional care. Often they are also facing a host of confusing legal and financial decisions, from estate planning to living wills and powers of attorney.

What questions do you ask? Where do you go for help? Who has a map to help you find your way through the forests of information to the services you need?

The answer, I’m afraid, is that there is no single map for this challenging journey. However, for information about subjects like dementia, care giving, medical services, long-term care, transportation help, and senior nutrition, the Rappahannock County Library is an excellent place to start. Among his other skills and resources, librarian David Shaffer is trained in helping people with Senior Navigator, an extensive Web site designed for older adults.

“”I’m impressed with what’s on there,” David Shaffer told me about Senior Navigator. “I think it really is a great resource.” It’s not being used much, though. Quite a few computer savvy older adults come to the library to use the computers, Shaffer says, but it’s rare that anyone asks about or uses Senior Navigator.

This is unfortunate, because Senior Navigator makes so much information easily accessible. “The site is pretty straightforward and easy to use,” Shaffer told me. “I think the links on Caregiving, Aging Well, and Community are particularly helpful.”

Those links and four others — Health; Legal and Financial; Housing and Long-Term Care; and Transportation — are stretched across the top of Senior Navigator’s homepage. There are also Search and Customized Search options for seeking out various types of information by location and criteria.

Following David’s recommendation, I clicked on Caregiving, which led me to links for Alzheimer’s and Dementia; Caregiving Basics; Resources to Help; and Taking Care of Yourself. Each of these, in turn, had links to sub-categories like Alzheimer’s Caregiving, Local Support, Assistive Technology/Home Modifications, and Stress Management, among many others. Clicking on these led to long lists of articles about the topic and to more links to other websites. All of the articles can be clicked and read or saved in the “My Library” feature for future reading.

These articles contain more information than one person could ever use. But what about finding services for the practical help you need? In each category, in addition to the articles, there is a Search box for finding local services. Under Transportation, for example, I found the RSVP Driving Program and Care-A-Van for our area. Local services need to register with Senior Navigator to show up in the searches. As the county resource specialist for Rappahannock, I can help them do that.

Back on the homepage, there’s a link to a Needs Assessment, which asks 12 simple questions. Based on your answers and your location, it tells you which relevant services and resources are available in your area.

Below the Needs Assessment is a feature that was a big help when I needed Medicaid information and advice. It’s called “Ask an Expert” — and you really can. I sent in my questions and a few days later received thorough answers written by a real human being, one with both knowledge and experience. The answers were tailored to my specific situation. It was very helpful.

If you go to use the Needs Assessment or Ask an Expert, you’ll be asked to first register as a member. Registering is simple, quick, and free, but does require an email address.

The endless stretches of information on Senior Navigator could be intimidating, so pace yourself and be patient. Try it at home ( or try it at the library. If you’d like some help, call David Shaffer at 540-675-3780 and make an appointment; he’ll reserve a computer and clear some time to help you. He and Senior Navigator can help you ask the right questions and find the answers you need.

Larry Stillwell is the Rappahannock County resource specialist for Aging Together, a community partnership that aims to improve the quality of life for the growing population of older adults. Local team meeting is at 1 p.m. the fourth Thursday of the month at the Rappahannock Library. Stillwell can be reached at 540-675-2531 or

Roger Piantadosi
About Roger Piantadosi 540 Articles
Former Rappahannock News editor Roger Piantadosi is a writer and works on web and video projects for Rappahannock Media and his own Synergist Media company. Before joining the News in 2009, he was a staff writer, editor and web developer at The Washington Post for almost 30 years.