Most older people are independent. But later in life, especially in the 80s and 90s, you or someone you know may begin to need help with everyday activities like shopping, cooking, walking, or bathing. For many people, regular or "long-term" care may mean a little help from family and friends or regular visits by a home health aide. For others who are frail or suffering from dementia, long-term care may involve moving to a place where professional care is available 24 hours a day.
The good news is that families have more choices in long-term care than ever before. Today, services can provide the needed help while letting you stay active and connected with family, friends, and neighbors. These services include home health care, adult day care, and transportation services for frail seniors as well as foster care, assisted living and retirement communities, and traditional nursing homes.
The key to successful long-term care is planning. You or your family may need to make a decision in a hurry, often after an unexpected emergency like a broken hip. Be prepared by getting information ahead of time. That way, you will know what's available and affordable before there is a crisis. To start:
If you are having trouble with things like bathing, managing finances, or driving, talk with your doctor and other health care professionals about your need for help. A special type of social worker, called a geriatric case manager, can help you and your family through this complex time by developing a long-term care plan and locating appropriate services. Geriatric case managers can be particularly helpful when family members live a long distance apart.
If you are helping a family member or friend, talk about the best way to meet his or her needs. If you need help for yourself, talk with your family. For instance, if you are having trouble making your meals, do you want meals delivered by a local program or would you like family and friends to help? Would you let a paid aide in your home? If you don't drive, would you like a friend or bus service to take you to the doctor or other appointments?
Learn about the types of services and care in your community. Doctors, social workers, and others who see you for regular care may have suggestions. The Area Agency on Aging and local and state offices of aging or social services can give you lists of adult day care centers, meal programs, companion programs, transportation services, or places providing more care.
Find out how you may--or may not--be covered by insurance. The
Federal Medicare program and private "Medigap" insurance only
offer short-term home health and nursing home benefits. Contact
your state-run Medicaid program about long-term nursing home
coverage for people with limited means. Also, your state's
insurance commission can tell you more about private long-term
care policies and offer tips on how to buy this complicated
insurance. These agencies are listed in your telephone book,