Aging happens, and the need for long-term care is one most Americans will have at some point in their lives.
Seventy percent of Americans ages 65 and older will need long-term care, but most adults over the age of 40 don’t think they will be one of them. A 2013 study conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that about half of Americans over the age of 40 believed that “almost everyone” will likely require long-term care—but only a quarter thought they would need it.
As a result, many people neither plan for nor research the services they wish to have—the exact opposite of what they should do, experts say. Professionals in the long-term care industry say the best way to navigate the process is to plan ahead, and there are resources available to help.
NY Connects, for example, is a free statewide program that provides information and assistance to older adults, individuals with disabilities and their families to help make informed decisions about long-term care services and support options. Last year alone, NY Connects in Monroe County, operated by Lifespan of Greater Rochester Inc., received over 12,000 inquiries.
“Often, clients don’t know where to start or what questions to ask. We simplify the process by getting a feel for a person’s needs and unique wishes. There are very few cookie-cutter solu-tions when we view a person’s unique situation,” says Leanne Rorick, director of Monroe County NY Connects.
Rorick admits that long-term care is a confusing system to navigate, even for those who work in the field. It helps to have an early understanding of costs, needs and the myriad community-based care, support services and housing types that fall under the long-term care umbrella.
“The biggest piece of advice we offer to the community is to explore long-term care options before they’re needed,” Rorick says. “Gathering information is a process, and it’s very difficult to do in a crisis, so it’s helpful to explore options before there’s a crisis.”
Those beginning to navigate the long-term care maze are often asked various questions to help professionals like Rorick best assist the family. Questions may include: What is a typical day like for you? What tasks do you need or want assistance with on a regular basis? What services from family and friends do you already have in place? Where do you prefer to receive your support?
And then there’s the inquiry that sinks many a heart: Tell me about your financial situation. Long-term care options and services cost money, and the rates vary depending on the level of support needed. A large part of what NY Connect does is to help families understand how to pay for long-term care.
“We help identify affordable options and can assist with information about insurances, financial support to pay for long-term care services, and applying for Medicaid if necessary,” Rorick says.
Still, there is no foolproof way to predict what type of care someone will ultimately need and the sustainability of his or her finances, she adds.
Experts recommend taking five steps to start the long-term planning process:
- Make a list of your needs and wishes.
- Ask your trusted medical provider for his or her input.
- Speak with a qualified, unbiased professional such as NY Connects for help with options that work for you, and speak to others who are well-versed in long-term care services who can help you throughout the process. (See sidebar.)
- Start visiting housing providers to learn more about the different services available and what you may be interested in.
- Communicate your values and preferences about long-term care with your family and others with whom you are close.
If any of this still sounds confusing, you’re not alone. But experts say there is a silver lining: There is no wrong place to start.
Planning ahead puts the majority of decisions in your hands rather than leaving everything—including your needs, wishes and finances—to chance in an already-complicated long-term care system.
Haverly M. Erskine is a Rochester-area freelance writer.
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