Sudden Illness Can Hasten Long-Term Care Discussion for Aging Americans


Our population has a higher life expectancy than ever before. With a longer life, though, comes an onset of age-related illnesses that could force otherwise independent senior citizens to seek assistance in the form of moving in with loved ones, using home-health aides, entering assisted living facilities or checking into nursing homes. Proper planning for the eventuality that age will one day force you to ask for some form of help to perform daily activities can save your loved ones the anxiety of making tough decisions, can save money and can ensure that your wishes are carried out.

Sudden Illness May Force the Elderly Into Less-Than-Ideal Care Situations

Countless elderly patients are admitted to our nation’s hospitals annually. Some of them are treated and released with no need for follow-up treatment. Some, however, cannot go back to their normal lives because their medical condition requires long-term care. If no plan has been made for an elderly patient’s long-term care prior to hospitalization, hasty decisions might be made that result in an aging loved one being placed into a subpar nursing facility or moving into the home of a younger family member who isn’t mentally, physically or financially prepared for the responsibility that comes with providing full-time care.

The ideal solution is to be prepared for a number of different possible long-term care scenarios. This preparation is best done by a skilled estate planning attorney who has the knowledge and tools to craft a comprehensive long-term care plan that covers financial, practical and logistic solutions to possible life needs that can arise when an elderly person can no longer live fully independently.

What Types of Long-Term Care are Available?

Depending upon a person’s unique needs, there are several different options available for long-term care. These include:

  • In-home care – nursing or personal aides come into a person’s home (or that of a loved one) to provide assistance with self-care (like personal grooming, bathing and administering medications) and daily activities (like housekeeping, meal preparation, grocery shopping and bill paying)
  • Adult day programs – social programs providing on-site exercise, enrichment and medical care at a central location
  • Retirement communities – apartments or condos provided specifically for elderly people who have need for some on-site services like some meals, transportation, activities and housekeeping assistance
  • Assisted living facilities – designed for those senior citizens who need slightly more day-to-day assistance than that offered in a retirement community, including help with medication administration, personal grooming (bathing, dressing and toileting), basic medical care (like regular blood pressure or glucose checks) and socialization
  • Nursing homes – round-the-clock care and supervision for those whose illness or injuries prevent them from living independently or those who need end-of-life assistance; nursing homes provide for both personal and medical needs of residents, and most offer higher-level medical services like physical therapy, laboratory testing and assistance with ventilators, catheters and colostomy bags

Which Long-Term Care Option is Right for Your Loved One?

The type of long-term care that best meets a particular patient’s needs is a fact-specific determination that needs to be made only after carefully weighing all the options. Whether planning is done ahead of time or is made at the time a patient needs long-term care, there are several considerations to help guide patients and their loved ones, including:

  • Level of service needed (specifically if the care is more personal or medical in nature; extensive medical issues might require nursing home care, but a relatively healthy person who just needs help with day-to-day activities might be a good candidate for a home health aide)
  • Personal preferences of both the patient and his or her family
  • Cost of care; this is a particularly important consideration when making a decision about nursing-home care since it can easily cost thousands of dollars a month to house a patient full-time
  • Types of care available in the area; for example, you might be willing to pay more for an in-home nurse if there aren’t any assisted living facilities in your area

Making Informed Decisions

Through careful planning, the high-cost of long-term care doesn’t have to deplete an elderly person’s savings and assets. Through asset transfers, irrevocable trusts or other estate planning tools, assets can be protected, and a person can still qualify for Medicare/Medicaid.

Regardless of the type of long-term care selected, it is important that the decision to seek a particular level of care be an informed one. Doing research before long-term care is needed may remove much of the stress and anxiety associated with the decision. To learn more about the types of long-term care available and for ways to finance that care when it is needed, speak with an experienced elder law attorney in your area.

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