In the field of gerontology, long-term care planning is a very hot topic. I can’t pick up an aging newspaper or journal without some mention of this issue. That is not to say I am surprised by the attention it gets. One of the most startling facts I learned in class was that unpaid caregivers provide services valued at $450 billion per year!

Long-term care (LTC) is an essential expense and while many dream of a healthy retirement filled with vacations and relaxation, this is far from the reality. Most people will grow old and frail and need LTC during their retirement years. Unfortunately, most are not planning for it and the government is cutting back on affordable options that could help. Though Americans are not planning for LTC, they are worried. A California poll on this issue found that two-thirds of people don’t know how they will be able to afford LTC. They are just as concerned about this expense as the cost of their future healthcare. So if people are aware of the problem, why the inaction? Perhaps it’s because they don’t know where to begin. What affordable options do they have so they can age with dignity and independence, living how they want in the place they choose?

Information to Consider:

What is Long-Term Care = when you are not able to complete personal care or other daily activities on your own. This is most often the result of a chronic illness or disability. In some cases, the illness or disability may include cognitive impairment.

How Much Care Do You Need = about two-thirds of today’s elders will need LTC support. Women need care longer (on average 3.7 years) than men (on average 2.2 years), mostly because women typically live longer.

Who Will Provide Support = help comes from 3 sources: (1) family and friends (2) agencies with certified staff or (3) hiring help on your own. For many, a blended approach to LTC is needed.

How Do You Plan and Pay = the National Care Planning Council has a detailed guide to planning for your LTC needs. This 7 step plan involves understanding the care settings and available government programs, who you should call on for help, how you can pay for services, and how you can protect your assets. More information about the public and private sources for funding LTC can be found on the Department of Health and Human Services website.

Getting Started:

It may be daunting to see all the steps and options to consider. I’m asking you to start thinking about this decades before it’s needed! Perhaps having the following conversations is a better starting point for some of us. Begin thinking about LTC and your own life. Then when you do your research, you’ll be aware of your personal needs and desires.

(1) Talk with your spouse, adult children, friends, or siblings about whether they might care for you if I became ill or disabled. Tell them how you feel about relying on their help.
(2) Ask your family doctor whether you might be at higher risk for needing long-term care someday based on your medical and family history or lifestyle risk factors.
(3) Talk with a financial planner, insurance agent, attorney, or other financial advisor about how you would pay for long-term care services if you need them.