When most people think of long-term care for the elderly, they think of nursing homes. But it can involve much more than that. It also means home health care and personal care, and help with chores, all of which can be necessary for older people living at home.
Long-term care involves a variety of services designed to meet a person’s health or personal care needs during a short or long period of time. These services help people live as independently and safely as possible when they can no longer perform everyday activities on their own.
How to Pay for Long-Term Care
Aside from paying out of pocket (private pay) unless you’re fortunate enough to have a loved one providing care at no charge, another source of payment is long-term care insurance or programs that help seniors, the elderly home bound and caregivers free of charge, or sliding scale, based on income.
The most common type of long-term care is personal care services — in-home care to help with everyday activities, also called Activities of Daily Living or ADL’s. These activities include bathing, dressing, grooming, using the toilet, eating, and moving around — for example, getting out of bed and into a chair.
Health Conditions Drives the Need for Long Term Care
People often need long-term care when they have a serious, ongoing health condition or disability. The need for long-term care can arise suddenly, such as after a heart attack or stroke. Most often, however, it develops gradually, as people get older and frailer or as an illness or disability gets worse.
How Long Does Care Last?
Long-term care can last a short time or a long time. Short-term care lasts several weeks or a few months while someone is recovering from a sudden illness or injury. For example, a person may get short-term rehabilitation therapy at a nursing facility after hip surgery, then go home.
Long-term care can be ongoing, as with someone who is severely disabled from a stroke or who has Alzheimer’s disease. Many people can remain at home if they have help from family and friends or paid services. But some people move permanently to a nursing home or other type of facility if their needs can no longer be met at home.
About 70 percent of people over age 65 need some type of long-term care during their lifetime. More than 40 percent need care in a nursing home for some period of time.
Who Will Need Long Term Care?
It is difficult to predict how much or what type of long-term care a person might need. Several things increase the risk of needing long-term care.
- Age — The risk generally increases as people get older.
- Gender — Women are at higher risk than men, primarily because they often live longer.
- Marital status — Single people are more likely than married people to need care from a paid provider.
- Lifestyle — Poor diet and exercise habits can increase a person’s risk.
- Health and family history — These factors also affect risk.