Be Informed and Prepared: Knowing Your Long-Term Care Options and How to Pay for Them
Long-term care is rarely a topic of choice with most Americans, and it often goes unaddressed. But the fact is that 70 percent of Americans age 65 will one day require some form of long-term care. It’s too bad that it’s so often overlooked, because failing to prepare for long-term care is a self-defeating strategy. Without some form of coverage, plan or safety net, it can be a very expensive proposition, even ruinous for some people.
You or a partner may one day need help with activities like eating, dressing, bathing and walking, only to find you don’t know where to turn. Fortunately, there are a number of measures you can take now so that you’re better positioned to find the help you need as soon as you need it.
Assess your health
The probability that you will need long-term care is high, but what you are doing now to take care of yourself? Examine your current diet and level of physical activity. As you age, your metabolism slows down, your digestive system changes, and you might experience a change in appetite due to medications. Eating right can help you fight back against senior-related health conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart problems. Along with a diet high in fruits, vegetables, protein, and grains, you should be exercising too. Regular physical activity helps to improve strength, balance, flexibility, and physical health — all things that decline with age and increase the likelihood that you will need long-term care.
Know your options
It’s hard to know what to do if you don’t understand your options, which is why it’s so important to do your research. Long-term care is a much broader term than it once was, meaning that there are more alternatives than there were even a few short years ago. Today, people can make care decisions based on the best fit, which may include assisted living, independent living, home health services, adult day care, and hospice.
For someone who’s having trouble getting around but is still mentally sharp, home health care would allow them to remain at home, whereas someone with Alzheimer’s might be better off in an assisted living facility, which often keep memory care specialists on staff. To match the right option with the condition, you need to know what the options are. This includes familiarizing yourself with the programs each option offers such as wellness plans, social activities, personal grooming, security measures, etc.
There are several resources to help you identify care providers in your area. The Area Agency on Aging is an excellent resource for researching your options, while the National Center for Assisted Living website can put you in touch with an assisted living community near you.
Formulating a plan
It’s useful to think through what you would want done on your behalf. For instance, advance care planning can articulate your wishes based on your personal values and beliefs. It’s a smart move, because there may come a day when you are too ill or too disoriented to make your own care decisions. If you decide to formalize your wishes, an advanced care directive would be the next step and articulate your care instructions if you’re incapacitated. Or, you may decide to assign an individual to have medical power of attorney so they can legally make such decisions on your behalf.
Communicate your instructions/plans
An important part of this process is to communicate your intentions to family members so there are no surprises, arguments or misunderstandings when the time comes for difficult decisions to be made. Don’t overlook funeral costs and expenses involving the disposal of your remains, which can leave family members holding a very large bill. Burial insurance will cover many of these expenses, sometimes even helping with healthcare-related bills and personal debt (if you purchase burial insurance, take your final arrangement wishes into account).
Medicare is of relatively little help if you or a loved one needs assisted living or nursing home care. Look into long-term care insurance, and remember that the earlier you take out a policy, the more affordable it will be. However, don’t let that stop you from looking into it. You can also add a rider to an existing life insurance policy, which would let you use part of your death benefits for long-term care. Find out if your employer offers health savings accounts, which you can contribute to yearly and make tax-free withdrawals from if they’re used for health-care related expenses. There may also be options available through Medicaid, though be sure you understand the conditions based on your situation.
Long-term care doesn’t have to be a nightmare scenario if you know your care and coverage options. Once you have a long-term care plan, making key decisions about care and how to pay for it becomes a lot easier.
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