Make It a Resolution to Face Our Long Term Care Fears

This week, millions of Americans will travel far and wide to spend this holiday season with their loved ones, many of whom they have not seen in some time. They say distance makes the heart grow fonder, but sometimes it also shields us from the stark truth. Family members seeing their elderly loved ones may be shocked to find that mom or dad may not be getting around as easily as the last time they saw them. Grandma or grandpa may not remember how to do simple tasks as they could last year. These glaring realities will require families to sit down together earlier than expected and figure out next steps to ensure a loved one’s safety and wellbeing. A new poll conducted by Morning Consult and commissioned by the National Center for Assisted Living demonstrates the need for such conversations sooner than later.

Morning Consult surveyed more than 2,000 voters and found that only four in 10 thought they would need some form of long term care (or assistance with daily activities) during their retirement. The federal government estimates that this number is closer to seven in 10. Additionally, among those on the verge of possibly needing long term care—55 to 64 year olds—only one-third said they had a power of attorney or a living will. This lack of consideration and preparation for what many of us will go through should be concerning for American families.

We know that the elderly population is ballooning. Every day, 10,000 baby boomers reach retirement age, and the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the number of people age 65 and older will double by 2050. Additionally, our life expectancy gradually increases with each passing year. What many do not comprehend is that not only will there be more elderly people living longer, but they will have more medical and daily care needs than ever before.

A report released last week by the University for Southern California’s Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics says that in 2030, the typical Medicare beneficiary will more likely be obese, disabled or suffer from chronic conditions (such as heart disease and high blood pressure) than those in 2010. Simultaneously, with no immediate cure in sight for Alzheimer’s, more people will suffer from this debilitating disease in the future — 2 million more in the next 10 years, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Thanks to modern medicine, we’re able to treat and live with many more chronic conditions longer, but we’ll be frailer and require more assistance with everyday personal tasks (e.g., bathing, dressing, eating). Yet, as Morning Consult discovered, few of us think we’ll need long term care—in our homes or in a dedicated facility—so not enough Americans are preparing financially.

Three in 10 voters in Morning Consult’s poll said they would rely on Medicare to cover most of their health care expenses in retirement, the highest choice among any other. Americans looking to rely solely on this government program in their later years will be sorely disappointed. While Medicare covers many aspects of medical care, it does not cover long term care services and supports.

This mistaken belief in Medicare as our savior is unsustainable for American families. Unless people have substantial personal or retirement savings, or a long term care insurance plan, those needing long term care will find themselves having to rely on loved ones or else spend down their assets to become eligible for Medicaid. By the way, a mere 3 percent of voters said they would rely on long term care insurance in Morning Consult’s poll.

Assisted living communities are ready and equal to the task of addressing this issue. This type of long term care facility serves individuals who need some assistance with daily activities and health services, but don’t require 24-hour skilled nursing care. These communities are focused on delivering person-centered care to each individual resident and offer a unique combination of companionship, independence, privacy, and security in a home-like setting.

Additionally, assisted living is a lower cost alternative, averaging $2,000 less a year than a home health aide, according to Genworth. What’s more, not all Americans want to stay at home for the rest of their lives, as Morning Consult found. Nearly three in 10 voters (28 percent) said they would want to live in an assisted living community when they could no longer live on their own. We are an important part of the long term care continuum and look forward to working with policymakers and stakeholders to find solutions to ensure a more robust health care system.

At NCAL, we believe long term care supports and services should be delivered at the right time in the right place for each individual. This is where the discussion needs to begin. Loved ones need to sit down with each other, explore their options, and express their wishes. We understand aging is not a topic many Americans want to think or talk about, especially around the holidays, but it is a reality we must face. Let’s address this fear of aging head on and ensure a better quality of life for all of us. Start your resolutions before the New Year and take an important step over the holidays to have that essential conversation with a loved one that you know will be critical for them and your entire family.

Scott Tittle is the executive director of the National Center for Assisted Living.

Morning Consult