Overcoming the Rising Costs of Long-Term Senior Care

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According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 7 in every 10 adults will need some type of long-term senior care by the age of 65. What’s more, the Genworth 2018 Cost of Care Survey found that the cost of long-term senior care services has steadily risen across the United States over the past 15 years. 

Here’s what you can expect, along with helpful tips to choose long-term senior care options.

Defining Long-Term Senior Care

What exactly is long-term senior care? The National Institute on Aging defines it as a variety of services designed to meet your health or personal care needs. These services can help you live more independently and safely when you’re not able to perform everyday activities on your own.

Long-term senior care can be provided at home, in a senior living community that offers assisted living, memory care or skilled nursing or, in some cases, in an adult day care center. It typically includes:

  • Personal care such as bathing, dressing, and using the toilet
  • Medication management
  • Meals and assistance with eating
  • Transportation services
  • Medical services to help with recovery from illness or surgery
  • Physical, occupational or speech therapy 
  • Assistance with chronic health conditions or disability

Each of us may need long-term senior care at some point, but these factors may increase your risk:

  • Increasing age
  • Gender: women are at a higher risk
  • Marital status: single people are more likely to need paid care
  • Poor diet and lack of exercise 
  • Health and family history

For more information on preparing financially for retirement, check out our Family Guide to Funding Senior Care & Housing!

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The Costs of Long-Term Senior Care

The need for long-term senior care can come about suddenly, develop gradually, or you may never need it at all. Without knowing what the future holds, it’s best to plan for the cost. Here’s what you can expect, as per the Genworth 2018 Cost of Care Survey.

Average monthly costs for long-term senior care: 

  • Homemaker services – Help with household tasks that cannot be managed alone: $4,004
  • Home health aide services – “Hands-on” personal care, but not medical care: $4,195
  • Adult day health care: Social and support services in a community-based, protective setting: $1,560
  • Assisted living – A residential arrangement providing personal care and health services. Private, one-bedroom: $4,000
  • Nursing home care – Often a higher level of supervision and care than in assisted living with onsite nursing 24/7 (also known as skilled care). Semi-private room: $7,441. Private room: $8,365

Why do costs continue to increase? According to an American Medical Association study on U.S. health spending, some of the most prevalent reasons are our growing and aging population, as well as increases in chronic illness. All of this leads to an increased utilization of medical services.

Specific to in-home care services, Genworth research points to these factors for continuing increases:

  • Low unemployment
  • Wage pressures
  • Regulatory changes
  • Labor shortages
  • Sicker patients
  • Employee retention challenges

Misperceptions about Medicare and Medicaid

  • Many people believe that Medicare, Medicaid and/or health insurance will cover long-term senior care costs. In fact:
    • Medicare only pays for long-term care if you require skilled services or rehabilitative care, and there are time limits around that.
    • Medicaid pays for most long-term care services, but to qualify, your income must be below a certain level and you must meet minimum state eligibility requirements based on the amount of assistance you need.
    • Health insurance typically covers only the same kinds of services as Medicare. The coverage they provide is typically only for skilled, short-term, medically necessary care.

Preparing for Long-Term Senior Care

When faced with these costs and the uncertainty of what the future may bring, you may think it’s best to simply hunker down at home and deal with any long-term senior care costs there. Many families don’t even consider senior living automatically assuming they can’t afford it. But at-home care has its costs as well, both in dollars and in emotional toll. Let’s take a closer look.

The cost of living at home isn’t just mortgage or rent. To truly compare the cost of living at home versus senior living you must include the cost of food, utilities, home maintenance, property taxes, insurance and entertainment as well. These things are typically included in the monthly cost for senior living. Then factor in the cost of at-home care and/or modifications. Once you compare apples to apples, you may find senior living is less expensive! And don’t forget options such as the Veterans Aid & Attendance Benefit, Long-Term Care Insurance and Life Insurance Conversion which can also help you offset the cost.

The real value of senior living lies in its impact on quality of life for you, and your family. You’ll enjoy a full calendar of social, fitness and enrichment opportunities, a worry-free lifestyle without unexpected expenses, chores or maintenance and the added peace of mind that you’ll always have support however your long-term care needs evolve. Plus, your loved ones won’t have to take on care-giving burdens and can enjoy life alongside you.