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How to Plan for Long-Term Care

Most older people are independent. But later in life, you or someone you love may need help with everyday activities, such as shopping, cooking, and bathing.

A variety of services and facilities can provide help that allows people to stay active and connected with family, friends, and neighbors.

Planning ahead

The key to successful long-term care is planning. To get started:

  • Talk with your doctor or another health care professional if you're having trouble with everyday activities, such as walking, managing finances, or driving.

  • Learn about the types of services and care in your community by talking to doctors, social workers, family, and friends. The Area Agency on Aging and local and state offices of aging and social services can provide lists of home health care providers, adult daycare centers, meal programs, companion services, and transportation services.

  • Learn how much long-term care would cost and how much of the costs Medicare or your insurance plan will pay. You may want to look into long-term care insurance or other plans that can help pay the costs. The Area Agency on Aging and local and state offices of aging and social services may have information to help.

Needing more care

At some point, support from family, friends, and local meal and transportation programs may not be enough. If you need a lot of help with everyday activities, you may need to move to a place where care is available 24-hours a day.

These are two types of residential-care facilities:

  • Assisted-living communities, which offer different levels of care that often include meals, recreation, security, and help with bathing, dressing, and housekeeping.

  • Nursing homes, or skilled-nursing facilities, which provide round-the-clock service and supervision, medical care, and rehabilitation for residents who are mostly frail, very ill, or suffer from dementia.

Finding the right place

To find long-term care for yourself or someone else:

  • Ask questions. Your state's office of the long-term care ombudsman can provide information about specific nursing homes.

  • Call around. Contact places that interest you and ask questions about vacancies, number of residents, costs, and payment methods. You should also inquire about specific services that may be important to you, such as special units for people with Alzheimer's disease.

  • Visit the facilities. When you find a place that sounds appropriate, go and talk to the staff, residents, and residents' family members. Check out the facility for cleanliness and safety and observe the way residents are treated by staff.

For further information, visit the National Institute on Aging website at http://www.nia.nih.gov; the Eldercare Locator website at http://www.eldercare.gov; and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services website at http://cms.hhs.gov.