Americans are living longer, which means more time with the grandchildren, more time to travel to those places you didn’t see when you were younger and more time to devote to leaving your mark on the world.
But a longer life expectancy also comes with problems.
At least 70 percent of Americans will eventually watch as an aging loved one’s life is taken over by a growing list of impairments that could mean there’s a need for long-term care. And many family members will be unprepared both financially and emotionally to make decisions about what’s best for that person they care about so much.
Too many people wait until they are in the middle of a crisis before they start trying to figure out how the world of long-term care works. That’s why it’s important to have a game plan mapped out ahead of time. There are key things people need to be thinking about.
First, can you recognize the need for care? The first step in providing long-term care is identifying that a loved one needs the care. Sometimes this can sneak up on you slowly or it can happen overnight. Some of the telltale signs include cognitive impairment, such as forgetfulness or confusion; a house that is not as tidy or organized as it once was, or has objects in odd places. Other indications that the loved one needs care include physical deterioration, such as marked weakness, loss of strength and stamina, difficulty balancing or drastic weight loss.
Next, do you know what the right kind of care is? There are four types of long-term care. Home health care allows someone to remain in their own home while receiving care by licensed or unlicensed workers, as well as designated family members. Assisted living is housing for someone unable to live independently, but who just needs mid-level custodial care, medication support, lifestyle activities, transportation and meals. Nursing homes are for those who need higher-level skilled care. Finally, hospice care is for people in the final six months of life.
Finally, there’s this important question: Are you prepared to pay for it? The cost of long-term care can devastate a family’s finances. The annual cost of nursing home care, for example, is more than $80,000. Generally, there are three options for paying for long-term care: tapping into retirement savings, buying long-term care insurance, or relying on Medicaid and Medicare.
Most seniors don’t want to be a burden on their families, and yet too often families are unprepared for how long-term care will have an impact on them. That’s why it’s important to plan for that day and not wait until you’re in the middle of a crisis.