November is National Caregivers Awareness Month -- and with those 85+ turning out to be the fastest growing population in the US, we know there are many stressed caregivers out there. And more to come, with 65% of those over 65 will require some long-term care during their lives. So author and AgeWave founder Ken Dychtwald wrote a Huffington Post column,that is really an argument that in order to help your frail and illness-plagued aging parents in their own homes, buy long-term care insurance now before they become frail and ill (or for yourself, before you become frail and ill).
Long-term care insurance seems like such a smart strategy -- his parents bought it in their 70's -- and it has given them flexibility and care: In their late 80's now, they are in Florida (thousands of miles from either of their sons) with good care coordination and an aide caring for them 6 days a week.** I am not here to argue the benefits of long-term care insurance or of types of long-term care.
I do want to point out, however, that LTC insurance is not a guarantee of a thriving situation for aging in place. First of all, your own home can be a terribly isolated place with only the aide, the television and perhaps a non-communicative spouse in the home. Even in the described situation, what happens on day 7 in terms of meals, bathing, safe navigation around the home? And it depends on the home -- which can be a frightening place if there are obstacles, unsafe bathrooms, stairs, etc. I particularly worry about this in Florida, where such a large percentage of the aging population resides with no family members within thousands of miles.
Second, monitoring and managing the service for in-home care is a stressful long-distance challenge for family members. Like any service, it can be done well or...not so well. So in considering Ken's words, let's also consider checking to see if the insurance plan covers home monitoring technology (motion sensor-based, web camera, environmental). Does it include the post-Medicare coverage for telehealth monitoring? Does it include communications technology (video phone, PC and an internet plan?) I am going to bet that it doesn't. So how will adult children monitor the caregiving, communicate with their family member, and help make a determination that the home continues to be a great place for safety, socialization, or obtaining care expertise?
It's certainly great when it happens that 100 is the new 65. But vision decline, stroke, Parkinson's, or Alzheimer's diagnoses can turn a home into an obstacle course and make 65 (or 80) seem like the new 100. So let's make sure that those with long term care insurance and home care also are linked in to family or friends. Let's also remember that Internet access can help fight depression -- and that 9-year-old grandchildren may be the proper market for Skype, cameras, and smart phones to chat with their grandparents to see how they're doing.
** See the Kiplinger has an explanatory video on various types of long-term care and costs (big).