November 20, 2011

USA: Growing senior population accelerates need to plan for care

PORTSMOUTH,New Hampshire / / Life / November 20, 2011

By Lisa Ganem 

Having spent the past 10 years caring for more than 1,200 clients in the state of New Hampshire and providing support and guidance to their families, I have come to realize that care options, and cost of care is not widely understood. Nor is the average consumer aware that planning for care is similar to planning for a child's education; there is a need to plan ahead or you may not end up where you want to be or end up paying too much.

The need for planning is becoming more important as our nation's demographics are evolving to a situation that has never been seen before. The nation's population of senior citizens is about to rise to historic levels. Some 78 million men and women — the generation known as the baby boomers — were born between 1946 and 1964. The first wave of boomers started turning 65 on Jan. 1, 2011, at a rate of more than 8,000 a day. By year's end, the nation's senior population will grow by almost 3 million, to a total of 49 million. By 2025, the senior population, which was 35 million in 2000, will have more than doubled to 72 million.

As older adults continue to age, many will experience various health problems such as impaired mobility, strokes, Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, to name a few. Some ailments will be long lasting, and some will occur in combinations. In fact, 80 percent of the nation's current seniors have one chronic health condition, and 50 percent have at least two.

Additionally, studies show that's about 90 percent of American seniors have said they want to remain in their own homes for as long as possible.

Historically, as families were planning for a loved one's care there were only two options — to move in with a loved one or be placed in a nursing home. In the last two decades, there has been a proliferation of care options, which has created a spectrum of choices. New options include family care, senior centers, adult day centers, non-medical care at home, medical care at home, retirement and independent living communities, assisted living communities, skilled nursing homes and continued care retirement communities. Choices allow for a family's care plan to be more dynamic and cost effective as one can receive assistance only as needed, when needed.

Researching the options and pricing is best left with you, the consumer. To do this it is important to educate yourself on the available care options; the costs associated with each option; and understand when it's appropriate to use. Getting advice from additional sources is advisable, preferably more than one is recommended. Ask questions; realize no one source is the authority on all care and find what is best for your family. Having done your homework upfront, you will better know how to use the advice and information you gather.

The most successful way to manage the cost of care is to only purchase what you need when you needed it. What does this mean? Years ago, it was not uncommon for a person to sell the family home and move into a community for seniors long before any care was needed. Although downsizing initially may seem attractive, you must consider that a move to such a senior community costs a person on average between $40,000 and $60,000 per year. If services and the monthly costs associated exceed one's needs, then those dollars are wasted, and could be better saved for future care. Considering the primary source of pay for senior care is private pay dollars, the potential of any wasted dollars should not be overlooked. There are other resources available to augment care, such as long-term care insurance, VA Benefits, state grants, Medicare and Medicaid.

Additionally, it is important to understand the beginning signs of aging which include: losing track of medications; losing interest in meals; declining personal hygiene; declining driving skills; scorched pots and pans; signs of depression; missed doctors' appointments and social engagements; household bills piling up and an unkempt house. Early intervention can also help to lower cost of care in the long run and provide for an overall higher quality of life.

The cost of senior care can be daunting, but if you do a little homework, you can help to reduce the overall cost by planning ahead, seeking resources and information, and educating yourself about the care options that are available. That way, you can find what options are best for you to ensure the highest quality, affordable care for you and your family.

Lisa Ganem is owner of Home Instead Senior Care of Seacoast and Southern New Hampshire. Home Instead Senior Care has served more than 1,200 clients and families and employed more than 850 staff. 
Lisa Ganem

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