When It Comes to Long-Term Care Planning, We’re in Denial

As my husband and I readied ourselves for a 3-mile run this morning, we talked about summer goals. Replace the fence. Get that humongous dog we’ve been talking about for two years. Look into long-term care insurance.

Did that last goal surprise you? It sounds really boring and tedious compared to the other two, doesn’t it? Yet we’ve been thinking about this for a while. And in light of a recent survey by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research (find links to short and long reports here), it sounds like we’re in the minority.

Have you planned for the possibility of long-term care in your later years? If not, you’re not alone. According to the survey, which included landline and cell phone interviews of 1,019 Americans 40 years and older, there is significant concern about how to meet long-term care needs but very little actually being done on a personal level to address that concern.

(c) Federal Long-Term Care Insurance Program

(c) Federal Long-Term Care Insurance Program

I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves:

  • Two-thirds of the respondents have done little or no long-term care planning.
  • 30% would rather not think of getting older at all (Can you say “denial”?)
  • Only 25% think that it’s very likely that they will need help in old age, even though more than half have already been caregivers for an older relative.
  • Two-thirds assume that family members will care for them if needed, but only 40% have actually discussed long-term care issues with family to determine how this would work.

These are stark numbers considering that government statistics estimate that close to 70% of Americans will need long-term care during their later years, for an average of 3 years per person.

I think what scares me the most about these numbers are the assumptions underlying them. I sure wish we could assume that family will take care of us if we become ill or disabled, but the reality is that this isn’t always true – or isn’t always possible even among relatives who desperately want to help.

The general public has no concept of what’s entailed in informal caregiving. If you’re a caregiver, you know that it’s often much more than an occasional trip to the doctor or a home-delivered casserole. It evolves. It escalates. And it costs – physically, financially, and emotionally. Unfortunately, a lot of family members don’t know what they’re getting into when they agree to step in should something happen. On the flip side, a lot of people assume that family will be there when a candid conversation will prove otherwise.

These candid conversations can save families loads of grief, stress, and miscommunications that come to a head right when the hardest decisions are required. For your sake and theirs, have these conversations sooner rather than later.

But that’s only one component of long-term care planning. Have you saved enough for possible long-term care expenses? Don’t assume that Medicare will pay for long-term nursing home care (It doesn’t.). And don’t assume that you’ll qualify for Medicaid without having to severely spend down your assets and savings. Is long-term care insurance an option for you? It’s worth checking out.

If all of this long-term care talk stresses you out, there’s a website that can help you start down a path of smart planning. Check out longtermcare.gov and engage in its user-friendly educational and decision-making tools so you can begin planning today.

Just as my husband and I did this morning, perhaps you can put this on your list of summer goals too.

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