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When I was growing up, my grandparents moved into our home. I remember that, initially, it was fun to have them around to keep us company when my parents were out, or to teach me how to plant flowers and build fences.
But as I reached high school, so did they get older and need more care. My grandfather passed away from lung cancer, because although he had never smoked, he was exposed to second-hand smoke his entire professional career. My grandmother suffered a stroke, and my mom became her long-term caregiver. I remember mom taking her to doctors, giving her a monthly haircut, helping her change and even feeding her. Things moved from everything is fine to her needing a full-time aide very quickly.
What is long term care?
Long-term care is a range of services and support that we need to meet our daily personal care needs. These actions are called “activities of daily living,” commonly referred to as ADLs. They include bathing, dressing, feeding ourselves, using the toilet, transferring to and from a chair or bed, among others.
Other common activities requiring help include managing money, responding to emergency alerts (such as smoke alarms), shopping and meal preparation, managing medications, taking care of pets and doing light housekeeping.
Most long-term care is not medical care, but rather assistance with the basic personal tasks of everyday life.
Decisions, decisions decisions!
Many people consider buying a long-term insurance policy to help pay for their future needs. But it’s expensive and the field is changing quickly, making it tough to reach a good decision.
Christine Benz writes on Morningstar.com about the challenges of choosing among long-term care options.
“The most frustrating part of long-term care decision-making is that the long-term landscape is changing so quickly,” Benz says.
“Unfortunately, the ‘right’ answer to the vexing long-term care question is pretty individual-specific, and depends on the individual’s level of wealth, age, desire to leave a bequest, and need for peace of mind, among other factors,” she continues.
Benz offers some sobering statistics but also some guidance in choosing long-term care options, including insurance.
Here are just a few of her statistics that should catch your attention:
*52.3 percent of people turning 65 will have a long-term care need during their lifetime
*38 percent of Americans over age 85 have Alzheimer’s dementia
* $225 billion was spent on long-term care in the U.S. in 2015
* 15 million Americans are expected to have a high long-term care need by 2050.
So it’s not hard to see why it’s important to start planning for these needs now.
What can you do?
- Start early: If you’re in a position to start planning early, do so. If you look at long-term care policies in your 50s or even 40s, the cost of insurance will be lower than if you wait until you are in your 60s. (Note that you will be paying premiums for a longer period of time before needing to use the insurance.)
- Explore your options with a financial advisor: There are many companies that offer long-term care insurance and there are traditional and hybrid policies. It’s good to evaluate both. If insurance isn’t for you, start making a plan for how you will pay for your future needs.
- Talk to your kids about your plans for the future. Many parents feel as if their adult children are too busy, don’t need more stress or distractions, or shouldn’t have to worry about them. But the truth is the more open communication you have early on, the easier it will be for both parties. Be empathetic, ask open-ended questions and use “I” and “we” instead of “you”. Consider Involving a neutral third party, such as a family friend or even a trusted advisor.
Among the things to be discussed are: Where do you plan to live when you retire? How do you expect to cover your costs? Are you likely to need help in the future? And if so, who can you count on for physical and/or financial needs that may arise? Do you want to stay in your own home or move to an assisted living or other senior facility?
Other topics should include information about financial accounts and documents, beneficiaries, trust, power of attorney and health care directives–including where these documents can be found.
You should also share information about your health care records and providers and keep a list of computer usernames and passwords for your children or others you want to help you.
Finding it hard to start the conversation? Sometimes sharing your hopes and dreams for your future–places you’d like to visit, goals you’d like to accomplish–can ease the way into honest communication.
Dealing with the “elephant in the room”
For many families, the decision to have an elderly loved one stop driving is one they would rather ignore. For the older person, the loss of driving privileges represents a much bigger loss–independence. Family members are torn between facing their loved one’s grief or anger and thinking of their safety and that of others.
Before you take away those car keys and all they represent, try to have some alternative means of transportation lined up. Ride services such as Lyft and Uber can be a godsend for seniors willing to learn to use the apps on their cellphones.
Many cities also offer free or low-cost transportation services that take seniors to doctor’s appointments, shopping centers or other popular destinations. Some nonprofits have volunteers to drive seniors to their destinations–and provide some company on the way.
If you’re having difficulty convincing your elderly loved one to stop driving, try enlisting help from the family physician. Medical providers can determine when someone should no longer drive and can be “the bad guy” in reporting this to the DMV. The DMV can give tests if someone protests the finding that he or she should not be driving.
You can also try hiding the car keys, moving the car to a friend or relative’s home or selling the car. While these methods may seem underhanded, remember that safety concerns must come first and you’ll do what it takes to avoid a tragedy.
Winnie Sun is among the highest followed financial advisors on social media. Follow her on Twitter @sungroupwp.