When you think about long-term care, you may think about long stays in hospitals. While you do get care in medical facilities, and it can last a while depending on your health, that’s not really what long-term care is. Long-term care is regular, sustained assistance with so-called “Activities of Daily Living.” This can mean a nursing home, assisted living facility, or in-home nursing care. Whether you’ll ever need it depends on your health — both factors in and out of your control. If you find yourself at higher risk for needing long-term care in the future, it’s vital that you start planning for the financial burden as soon as possible.
Assessing Your Long-Term Care Needs
Unlike something like retirement — which you know for a fact you need to plan for — long-term care isn’t something we all need. The stats say that a majority (at least 50 percent) of anyone over the age of 65 will need some form of care. So, you should start from there and then begin to take stock of your personal situation to assess and predict your future needs.
What are your risk factors?
There are plenty of things that can increase your likelihood of needing long-term care, from genetic factors to lifestyle choices. Here’s a list of things that you need to consider:
- Being obese
- Being female
- Having a chronic illness like diabetes or arthritis
- Family history of chronic disease
- Cognitive decline (early-onset Alzheimer’s, brain injury)
- Major musculoskeletal injury (broken hip, for example)
- Excessive drinking
- Mobility issues
- Genetic risk of cancer, stroke, and other acute medical issues
If you check one, two, or more of the above boxes, it doesn’t mean you’ll need long-term care. It does mean, however, that having a plan for how you’ll cover the costs in place is smart.
How to reduce your future long-term care needs today
Living a healthy life now is the number one way to stay independent as you age. Some things, such as developing dementia or having a stroke, are mostly out of your control. But you can eliminate many risk factors by eating healthy, getting daily exercise, practicing mindfulness in the form of yoga or meditation, and keeping yourself mentally stimulated as you age. The healthier you age, the more likely you are to avoid long-term care. It’s that simple.
Planning for the Expense
Don’t be confused: Long-terms care is not “care that you receive in the hospital or your doctor’s office, care you need to get well from a sickness or an injury, short-term rehabilitation from an accident, or recuperation from surgery.” Long-term care is custodial care that lasts for an extended period of time — often the rest of your life. That means Medicare won’t help you. Any basic private health insurance plan that does not specifically cover long-term care will not help either. You must make other monetary arrangements. Some options include:
- Government benefits that aren’t Medicare. If your income is low enough to qualify, Medicaid should help. If you’re a veteran, you should consider using the VA for all your long-term care needs. Social Security Disability assistance can help you cover the cost (if you need care before retirement age), but it likely won’t be enough on its own.
- Selling your home. If you’re in need of daily care, a nursing home or assisted living facility may be your best option. If that’s the case, selling your home could give you the funds to cover that sort of arrangement. Homes in Buffalo, New York, have sold for an average price of $138,000 in the last month, according to Redfin, and you’ll need to determine if this is a viable option given the current average home listing prices in your area and how your home compares.
- Long-term care insurance. This may be the safest bet, but it doesn’t come without drawbacks — mainly the premiums.
- Traditional savings strategies. You’re looking for something low-risk and decent-yield. It’s best to begin savings for long-term care as soon as you can.
The key to planning for long-term care is to start today. Be honest with yourself about your health and whether you think you will need it in the future. Having a conversation with yourself and the people you love is the first step to ensuring your future security.
June is the co-creator of Rise Up for Caregivers, which offers support for family members and friends who have taken on the responsibility of caring for their loved ones. She is author of the upcoming book, The Complete Guide to Caregiving: A Daily Companion for New Senior Caregivers.