These days, it’s natural for people to think about planning for their future long-term care when they’re still young. Whether it’s building a healthy retirement fund, getting a custom life insurance plan, or budgeting tightly over time, there’s a lot more education out there focused on preparing for healthcare costs well into old age. But previous generations haven’t necessarily grown up thinking about insurance or fall-back plans—even just 30 years ago, planning for your financial future wasn’t necessarily common.
The aftereffects of poor financial planning have, unfortunately, left many older adults today in a bit of a lurch. For example, your aging loved one may now need care they can’t afford because they don’t have insurance in place to cover it. Although they can’t go back in time to make different choices, we can help them to make new financial decisions now, ones that help them create a sustainable plan for long-term care. So whether your aging loved one is currently fit as a fiddle, or has recently started to lose the ability to care for themselves, there’s no time like the present to begin making smart financial choices. After all, everyone deserves to have access to the care they need.
When Long-Term Care Is Helpful
Long-term care becomes helpful—and in some cases, essential—if your loved one ever becomes unable to perform basic tasks like dressing, eating, or walking. Research estimates that around 70% of people over 65 need some form of long-term care. And within the next four years, it’s predicted that twelve million older adults in America will require help with everyday activities.
This need for long-term care can be a result of the aging process, or illnesses like dementia, osteoporosis, cancer, arthritis, or chronic pain. The main benefit of long-term care insurance is that it covers situations that other forms of insurance, such as Medicare and Medicaid, don’t.
Still, many older adults have chosen not to invest in long-term care insurance, which has been getting costlier by the year. In addition to increasingly in-depth background health checks, the high cost often prevents older adults from being able to afford it—and those who can afford it often prefer to instead pay out of their own pocket. So, many older adults opt to stick with traditional forms of insurance, rely on Medicare, or trust that their family will be able to support them if something should happen.
Financial Solutions for Affording Long-term Care
Relying on options like government insurance isn’t guaranteed to meet the needs of older adults who need long-term care, so it’s recommended that you explore additional options with them. Fortunately, there are several alternative strategies that can help caregivers offer their loved one extra support in moving forward with a sustainable long-term care plan—sustainable being the key.
Create a Game Plan with Family Members
Oftentimes, family members need to step into a caregiver role when an aging loved one starts exhibiting signs of dementia, or becomes unable to perform basic tasks. Many older adults hope their family will be able to care for them personally, as well as financially, in this situation. But, if families are unprepared, this can be quite stressful—especially for family members who are thrust into a caregiver role because there is no other choice.
Schedule a family gathering now to create a game-plan for meeting your loved one’s long-term care needs. Ideally, it’s wise to have family meetings while your aging loved one is still fully independent so you can decide, as a team, how to handle future care situations. Whether it’s pooling together savings to start a fund for assisted living, or deciding who’s home your loved one would move into, making decisions together can establish that this is a team effort: it’s a lot more achievable for an entire family of working adults to cover their loved one’s long-term care needs than for an older adult on their own. If there’s family conflict, consider hiring a mediator to help guide discussions and ensure fairness.
Help Your Loved One Stay as Healthy as Possible
The reality is, poor self-care and unhealthy habits can cause older adults to need long-term care far earlier than they otherwise would have. With so many things in life beyond our control, it’s helpful to put effort into the areas we can have an impact on. For older adults, this includes eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and maintaining a healthy social life. Likewise, enjoying hobbies and having an active role in the community are equally beneficial to your loved one’s overall well-being.
Putting a stop to unhealthy habits—such as quitting smoking, curbing alcohol consumption, and cutting back on junk food—can all help significantly extend the number of active years in an older adult’s life. This is one of the best things that caregivers can do to help their loved ones stay independent for as long as possible. If your loved one is still relatively able-bodied, now is the time to encourage a healthy lifestyle that engages your their mind, body, and spirit.
Choose Financial Investments and Insurance Wisely
Picking the best insurance and financial investments can easily feel overwhelming due to the vast number of options on the table. And, while there’s no ultimate perfect choice, it’s possible to make smart decisions by doing research and weighing all the pros and cons. Living in California means Medicare and Medicaid are available, which is a great start. In addition, consider looking into other alternatives to long-term care insurance when trying to make the right choice for your aging loved one.
- A health savings account (HSA): This tax-free account helps families save money in case of medical emergencies, long-term care, or other healthcare situations.
- Short-term care insurance: Short-term policies offer a temporary period of health coverage, while also allowing the person to continue to receive Medicaid benefits. An affordable alternative, this option offers lower premiums than long-term care insurance, and will often accept people who have previously been rejected for the latter.
- Critical care or critical illness insurance: Much cheaper than long-term care insurance, this type provides your loved one with a once-off payment if they’re diagnosed with a serious illness.
- Life insurance: This popular form of insurance is a lot more flexible with what it can be used for, and allows older adults to retain the benefits even if they don’t end up needing long-term care specifically. Some policies include ADBs (Accelerated Death Benefits), which lets your loved one receive their death benefits while still living, like a tax-free advance. This can be a substitute for long-term care insurance if your loved one becomes terminally ill or is diagnosed with a serious illness.
While making choices for your loved one’s future, long-term care has its challenges and postponing it can end up hurting them in the long run. With so many older adults today finding themselves without insurance or a backup plan, it’s more important than ever for caregivers and family members to help ensure they’re protected. Diving into this topic with other members of your family can also serve to strengthen the bond between everyone—it can really illuminate your desire to pull together to do what’s best for your aging loved one.
Be sure to involve your loved one in these discussions, especially if they’re still independent. Doing so can help relieve a lot of the underlying anxiety and fears they may be feeling about this issue. Even if certain types of insurance seem unaffordable, there are other, more cost-effective alternatives out there. They might not be your first choice, but that doesn’t mean they won’t meet your loved one’s needs—or provide the peace of mind they deserve.
If you’re unsure how to best support your aging loved one, Institute on Aging offers a range of services, programs, and online resources. Connect with us today to learn more.