David, age 58, knows that his parents will soon begin to need more help. Already in their 80’s, they’ve been fortunate to maintain their health and ability to live independently for all this time, but David worries about what will happen in case of a medical emergency or the need for long-term care. Although his mother and father are enjoying their golden years, they realize the need to plan for the future, and want to take time now to plan ahead.
Millions of seniors and their families face the same worries over planning for the future. Regardless of good health and well-being in the present, aging brings the ever present possibility for a change in well-being and need for new care. Overall, there are three major events to consider when planning ahead for elder care:
1. Health Events
Unexpected health events, such as a heart attack, stroke or dementia diagnosis can cause complete upheaval in a senior’s routine. A previously independent individual may suddenly need full-time care, and be unable to complete their typical household activities. For example, David’s father has always managed the couple’s investments and bill-paying through 50 years of marriage, but now David worries what will happen to their estate and finances if his father begins to suffer from memory loss or is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. In the February 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, an article suggests that doctors should play a much larger role in speaking to patients and their families about financial planning when a patient is diagnosed with dementia.
Seniors can and should take time to share household management duties with their spouse and family members who may potentially become responsible for managing the household finances. By being prepared with a “back-up” plan, seniors will have reassurance that their personal affairs will be under control in the case of an unexpected health crisis.
2. Financial Challenges
While suffering from a major health event can have a significant impact on the lifestyle of a senior citizen, it can also take a major toll on finances. Paying for unexpected health costs, nursing home stays, or long-term care can wipe out a senior’s savings in a matter of months. According to the Genworth 2012 Cost of Care Survey, the median cost of a private room in a nursing home is $81,0303 a year. When first confronted with costs of long-term care, it can be helpful to create a budget to forecast long-term care expenses vs. the amount people have in savings or the amount their long-term care insurance policy will cover. After savings are depleted, Medicaid becomes the de-facto payer of long-term care, for more information on this topic, visit our earlier blog: “Making Ends Meet When Money is Tight”
While loved ones may be hesitant to talk about end of life planning, ensuring that a plan is in place means that family members will not have to make guesses about their loved one’s health care preferences. To learn more about how to complete an Advanced Health Care Directive and put your wishes in writing, visit our previous blog post, “The Biggest Gift You Can Give Your Family?“ [Family Caregiver Alliance also has a special fact sheet focused just on the California Advance Health Care Directive, among other legal fact sheets, which caregivers in that state may find useful.]
While planning for unpleasant events may not be the most pleasant topic, doing so will ensure that your loved ones are prepared and protected in case of emergencies. Planning ahead lays a foundation for peace of mind, and reduced stress for seniors and their caregivers alike.