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What are the basics of long-term care planning?

When most people think of planning for their futures, they think about retirement savings or drafting a will. Many people overlook planning for long-term care because they misunderstand what long-term care actually refers to or underestimate how likely it is that they will need some form of long-term care. Overall, approximately 70% of people age 65 or older have a realistic expectation of requiring some form of long-term care in the future.

Before beginning to plan for long-term care, people should understand the real meaning of the term. Although it does include medical care, the majority of long-term care relates more to supports and services that assist people in meeting their daily personal care needs, such as eating, using the toilet, bathing, dressing, etc. In addition to those basic activities of daily living, long-term care also involves tasks like housework, caring for pets, money management, meal preparation, medication, using communication devices and shopping.

When beginning to plan for long-term care, people need to think about many more things than simply how to cover the cost of medical expenses. One of the first considerations is how long the need for long-term care will last and who will provide the care. On average, a person will use some form of long-term care for approximately three years in his or her lifetime. This care may be divided between the different forms, which include unpaid in-home care, paid in-home care, nursing facilities, and/or assisted living facilities. Although many people expect that relatives will provide any necessary care, people should not rely on this expectation without first discussing it with the potential caregivers and making alternative plans in the event that circumstances change.

Another key consideration is where any form of long-term care will be provided. In-home services are common and often preferred, but such an arrangement may not be feasible in all cases. Other options include community support services, like home care agencies that provide services on a needed basis, adult day care centers, or community transportation services. Facility-based services like nusing homes and assisted living centers provide another option for those who may need greater care.

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,, "The Basics," last accessed Nov. 16, 2014

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