As I was scrolling through the comments to a recent online article about making the best care decisions for aging parents, one comment really stood out: “My poor kids! I hope I die quickly and don’t require extended care, because I know I can’t afford it!” Ouch.
As distressing as that comment might sound, for many families, the worries about the financial strain of caring for an elderly loved one are all too real. How much are we really talking, when we talk about these expenses? Well, according to a 2017 article on MSN.com, “The national median monthly cost of homemaker services was $3,813 in 2016, according to the Genworth Cost of Care Survey. Home health aide services cost $3,861. Adult Day Healthcare, with a national median cost of $1,473. Assisted Living, with a national median cost of $3,628.” Bear in mind, these are just averages; actual costs can vary widely from state to state and service to service (to see what the averages are by state, click here https://www.seniorliving.org/retirement/assisted-living-facilities/ ). The one thing all states and services have in common, however, is that without proper planning, they can present a significant financial challenge for families who are unprepared. That’s the tough news; the good news is that there are things you can start doing now to prepare for the future and to better manage already existing financial issues:
1. Start early. Self-explanatory—the earlier the better.
2. Do your research. Take a thorough look at all of the potential options for your loved one’s (or your own) care, and what the actual costs for those options would be. Play around with multiple scenarios as you investigate: Does Mom want to remain in her home? Is Dad able to prepare meals for himself? Can my parents still drive themselves around? Do they have more serious medical needs?
Inform yourself ahead of time about programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, any post-retirement employer insurance program your loved one may have, veterans’ benefits, long-term care health insurance he or she may have, etc.
Make a list of what your loved one desires in terms of care (this step may require some difficult conversations with your loved ones, but they are a vital part of this process); what your loved one requires in terms of care (be aware, those first two items don’t always necessarily line up perfectly); and what all the various programs available will actually cover. Nursing home or rehab center stays? Drug plans? Therapies? Don’t be afraid to ask questions and push for clear, concrete answers.
Don’t forget about free or low-cost public benefits, either. From U.S. News & World Report: “Explore free or low-cost public benefits. Several websites can provide help in identifying and getting help with caregiving tasks. Check out the government's eldercare locator. The National Council on Aging operates a benefits checklist service, and the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging has extensive information on caregiving help, plus an online locator to find an office in your area.”
3. Plan for longevity. When I was younger, I remember watching Willard Scott do the Smucker’s Jelly Happy Birthday bit on the Today show, where they would celebrate those of advanced age with a sweet anecdote and cute picture of the birthday honoree superimposed on the side of a Smucker’s jar; it seemed such a rare and incredible thing when he’d wish some of them a 100th birthday. When they do the same bit today (with a new anchor, of course), it seems like all you see are centenarians—heck, even my own grandmother lived to the ripe, old age of 104! I’m sure my dad, who cared for her until her passing, well into his own eighties, never would’ve thunk it possible, but thanks to better diets, exercise, and the miracles of modern medicine, we’re living a lot longer, so it’s important to factor that in as you research.
4. Prepare a formal budget. Several websites offer a free online expense calculator that can help you with this step; here’s a very helpful one from https://www.aarp.org/benefits-discounts/all/long-term-care-calculator/. Once you’ve prepared your budget, then it’s time to have the conversation with your loved one about what you can realistically afford. This is one of the harder conversations you may have, but if you come prepared to the table with a thorough understanding and clear, detailed information that you can share with your loved one, it will make the conversation easier.
5. Think carefully about your own employment choices. For some families, part of this budget calculation may involve the decision to leave a job in order to take care of a loved one full-time, thus saving money on outside help. But while this can provide some immediate financial relief in the short-term, it can also create some long-term difficulties: What happens to your own retirement savings? Are you of an age yourself where re-entering the work force in the future could be difficult? What benefits for yourself would you lose—health, life, long-term care, and employee disability insurance benefits can cost a lot to replace, so make sure you factor those considerations into your research, as well as whether your employer may offer flex-time, remote work, and/or family leave policies that might allow you to keep your job and still help with some care yourself.
6. Watch out for scams. Elder financial abuse is on the rise, so it’s vital your loved ones have protection from making unwise or hasty financial decisions. Get comfortable checking in on them financially. This is also a good time to have the conversation with them about things like wills and powers of attorney, to better enable you to help safeguard their finances.
7. Practice kindness. This might seem like an unusual step in the process, but financial stress can bring out the absolute worst in all of us, especially in cases where the need for care presents itself without warning—that’s why it’s so important to be kind not only to your loved one, but also to yourself as you both struggle to make sense of what can be a very complicated situation. Don’t be afraid to ask others for help, and not just the physical kind, either; insurance policies, Medicare and Medicaid, and other programs’ details can be really dense and overwhelming, just due to the sheer amount of information, but there are helpful folks and plentiful resources online who can help you make sense of it all. Please, don’t hesitate to reach out, especially, as always, to our office at (301) 588-9710 if you need assistance. The most important thing to remember is you’re not alone in wanting the best for your loved one; that’s what we want, too.
MORE INFORMATION & LOCAL/ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:
Home Instead Senior Care of Montgomery County, MDHome Instead Senior Care’s Senior Care ResourcesCaregiver Resource Center, Holy Cross Resource Center; Sister Kathleen WeberMaryland Senior Resource NetworkMD Department of AgingMontgomery County MD Senior ServicesMontgomery County MD Department of Health and Human Services
Sign up for Home Instead Senior Care’s free monthly newsletters, Caring Connections, Senior Care Insights, and Alzheimer’s Reflections, offering tips and advice for caregivers of elderly loved ones. (To find these signups, please scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page, under “Looking for advice?”
https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/retirement/the-average-cost-of-senior-care-in-every-state/ss-BBBrCEH https://www.seniorliving.org/retirement/assisted-living-facilities/ https://www.payingforseniorcare.com/longtermcare/costs.htmlhttps://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/the-best-life/2013/07/30/how-to-prepare-to-financially-support-aging-parents
By Julia Tagliere, Communications Specialist, Home Instead Senior Care
Since 1998, Home Instead Senior Care has provided companionship, meal preparation, laundry/light housekeeping, incidental transportation, medication reminders, and personal hygiene assistance to seniors in Montgomery County and Northwest Washington. For information, please call (301) 588-9710; HomeInstead.com/197.
Home Instead offers free monthly newsletters with tips and advice for caregivers of elderly loved ones.