The importance of long-term care planning.

Virtual VillageIt's only natural that planning ahead for long-term care gets put off because most people do not want to think about a time when they might need long-term care. Most people first learn about long-term care when they or a loved one require it. At that point, their options are often limited by lack of information, the immediate need for services, and insufficient resources to pay for preferred services. Planning ahead for long-term care allows you to have more control over your future.

Why plan ahead for long-term care?

Planning ahead for long-term care is important because there is a good chance you will need some level of long-term care if you live beyond the age of 65. About 70 percent of people over age 65 require some services, and the likelihood of needing care increases as you become older.

Planning ahead helps you understand what long-term care service options are available in your local community, what special conditions may apply for receiving services — for example, age or other eligibility criteria — what long-term care services cost, and what payment options (public and private) apply. Having this information helps ensure you will have a range of options when you need long-term care, and makes it more likely that you will have more choice and control over where and how you receive long-term care services.

It is important to plan ahead because the cost of long-term care services often exceeds what the average person can pay from income and other resources. By planning ahead, you may be able to save your assets and income for uses other than long-term care, including preserving the quality of life for your spouse or other loved ones. With long-term care planning, there is a greater likelihood of being able to leave an estate to your loved ones, because you are less likely to use all of your financial resources in order to pay for long-term care.

Planning ahead for long-term care also means less emotional and financial stress on you and your family. It can provide a way to involve your entire family in decisions without depending on them to bear the entire burden alone when the time comes.

Finally, one of the most important advantages of planning ahead is to ensure greater independence should you need long-term care. Your choices for receiving care outside of a long-term care facility and being able to stay at home or receive services in the community for as long as possible are greater if you have planned ahead.

What is long-term care?

Long-term care is a variety of senior services and supports to meet health or personal care needs over an extended period of time. Most long-term care is non-skilled personal care assistance, such as help with performing everyday Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), such as bathing, dressing, using the toilet, transferring (to or from bed or chair), caring for incontinence, and eating.

The goal of long-term care services is to help you maximize your independence and functioning at a time when you are unable to be fully independent.

Who needs long-term care?

Long-term care is needed when you have a chronic illness or disability that causes you to need assistance with Activities of Daily Living. Illness or disability could include a problem with memory loss, confusion, or disorientation.

About 9 million Americans over the age of 65 will need long-term care services this year. By 2020, that number will increase to 12 million. An estimated 60 percent of people needing long-term care are 65 years of age or older.

What are my risks of needing long-term care?

About 70 percent of individuals over age 65 will require at least some form of long-term care services during their lifetime. More than 40 percent of seniors will need skilled nursing for some period of time. Factors that may increase your risk of needing long-term care are:

  • Age — The risk generally increases as you get older.
  • Marital Status — Single people are more likely to need care from a paid provider.
  • Gender — Women are at a higher risk than men, primarily because they tend to live longer.
  • Lifestyle — Poor diet and exercise habits can increase your risk.
  • Health and Family History — also impact your risk.

How much long-term care might I need?

It is difficult to predict how much or what type of long-term care any person might need. On average, someone age 65 today will need some long-term care services for approximately three years. Service and support needs vary from one person to the next and often change over time. Women typically need care for longer (on average 3.7 years) than do men (on average 2.2 years). While about one-third of today’s 65-year-olds may never need long-term care services, 20 percent of them will need care for more than five years. If you need long-term care, you may need one or more of the following:

  • Care or assistance with daily living activities in your home from an unpaid caregiver who can be a family member or friend;
  • Services at your home from a nurse, home health/home care aide, therapist, or homemaker;
  • Care in the community; and/or
  • Care in any of a variety of long-term facilities for seniors.

How do care needs change over time?

Many people who need long-term care develop the need for care gradually. They may begin needing care a few times a week, or one or two times a day. For example, help with bathing or dressing. Care needs often progress as you become older or as a chronic illness or disability becomes more debilitating, causing the need for care on a more continual basis. For example, help using the toilet or ongoing supervision because of a progressive condition such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Some people need long-term care in a facility for a relatively short period of time while they are recovering from a sudden illness or injury, and then may be able to be cared for at home. Others may need long-term care services on an on-going basis, such as someone who is disabled from a severe stroke. Some people may need to move to a skilled nursing facility or another type of facility-based setting for more extensive care or supervision if their needs can no longer be met in their home.

Statistics provided by the National Clearinghouse for Long-Term Care Information and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.