The majority of people recognize that aging brings with it the possibility of requiring extra help. There’s no way to know for sure whether you will need long-term care, but according to the Department of Health & Human Services, 70 percent of adults over age 65 have required some kind of long-term care during their lifetime.
Risk factors and red flags
Certain warnings may indicate that you or your loved one need more support. Stacks of unopened mail—like unpaid bills—or key home, legal, or financial papers that are ignored may indicate a decline in mental or cognitive ability. Multiple car accidents, warnings, or tickets could mean a possible health issue, too. So might a significant change in appearance, like a loved one gaining or losing significant weight, a decline in hygiene, or changes in sleep patterns.
Other risk factors are related to health issues, including family history of chronic conditions or illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s, stroke, arthritis, or heart disease. Consider health history, especially for those who’ve already experienced a variety of health issues throughout their lives and may need more long-term care in the future. Gender matters, too. On average, women live about 6 ½ years longer than men, which can increase the likelihood that they’ll need care.
Lifestyle choices to make now
These choices don’t guarantee that you won’t need long-term care, but they do go a long way to help you age well.
Eat well. It’s never too early to watch what—and how much—you eat. A Mediterranean diet that’s rich in plant-based foods, nuts, whole grains, and fish helps build a healthy heart and decreases the risk of a stroke.
Stay active. You don’t have to spend all your free time in the gym; engage in low-impact activities like swimming or yoga mixed with a little resistance training. Not only will the exercise help your body, it reduces age-related memory loss as well.
Be social. Spending time with friends and family can increase your longevity. Loneliness raises the risk of stroke, heart disease, and depression. Try hobbies, use social media and other technology to reach out, and plan meal dates with people whose company you enjoy.
You can reduce the risk of injury by making simple home modifications and adding safety features. Install ramps, railings on both sides of stairs, and safety bars in the bathrooms. Replace shaggy rugs with short-napped carpeting, or install skid-proof floors and eliminate rugs entirely. Check out this article for a more comprehensive list of preparations and modifications.
Paying for long-term care
Long-term care is expensive. A recent report indicated that the median annual cost of a semi-private room in a nursing home is $85,775. Meanwhile, the estimated lifetime cost of care for someone diagnosed with dementia is $341,840.
How do you plan ahead to cover such significant expenses? Use monthly Social Security payments or withdraw money from an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). Those funds often qualify for a medical expense deduction, which means you can turn your IRA into a tax-free health savings account (HSA). Here are a few more options:
Sell your home. The income generated from selling a home can help cover the cost of long-term care, especially if it’s accumulated a good amount of equity. In Columbia, MD, the average home sales price is $345K.
Veterans Aid and Attendance program. If you’ve served in the military at least 90 days during a time of war, you receive up to $1,830 monthly if you qualify.
Long-term care insurance. Consider buying a policy if you’re between the age of 55 and 65. You won’t need a policy that covers 100 percent of your care expenses, but rather to pick up the slack not covered by Social Security, retirement benefits, and other personal assets.
Add a chronic illness rider. You can add this rider to a term-life or permanent life insurance policy, when available, if you meet certain qualifications.
Aging brings certain unavoidable challenges, but that doesn’t mean you should banish birthdays. It’s about perspective; embrace those physical and emotional changes, and enjoy the wisdom you’ve earned with experience.
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.