Let's Talk: 6-tips On How to Start A Conversation With Loved Ones About Long-Term Care

Let's Talk: 6-tips On How to Start A Conversation With Loved Ones About Long-Term Care
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Co-authored with Tom McInerney, President and CEO of Genworth Financial.

When looking into the future, we imagine our loved ones happy and healthy, doing the things they enjoy during their late adulthood years. We never want to think of them being ill, disabled or needing long-term care services.

However, the reality is that most of us--at least 70 percent of people over the age of 65, in fact--will. Along with a longer lifespan comes a greater chance you will need help with some of life's basic needs.

Here are a few numbers to put it into perspective:

•According to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, 36 percent of people age 65 and older reported some type of disability, be it vision or hearing loss, cognition problems, difficulties moving around, or restrictions when it comes to self-care or independence, in 2014.

•Nearly 40% of people age 65 and older have difficulties with the activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, eating, toileting, getting out of bed, getting around inside one's home or building, or leaving one's home or building. Currently, about one in five older people that have these types of difficulties report that they need more help than they receive (Desai et al. 2001; Spillman 2013).

•Diseases that impair our ability to care for ourselves are on the rise. For example, one in nine people age 65 and older has Alzheimer's disease according to the Alzheimer's Association.

•When older people who need assistance do not get enough help, terrible things can happen, including falls, burns, inadequate nutrition, missed physician appointments, depression, hospitalization and emergency room use.

The truth of the matter is, by ignoring these statistics or failing to address the possibility of disability, we are doing ourselves and our loved ones a disservice. The power is in preparation and the best way to begin this preparation is to sit down and talk.

Admittedly, having a conversation about long-term care isn't exactly like talking about the weather. You must pick your moment--and your words--carefully. Whether you are a loved one of someone facing long-term care needs or you are contemplating those needs yourself (or both), here are some tips on how to talk about it:

Find an entry point. It's a good idea to use an event--be it a happy celebration, like a birthday or anniversary, or a near miss occurrence like a fall or brief illness--to trigger a discussion about long-term care. You can say something like, "it's amazing that you are celebrating your 65th birthday; we should probably start talking about plans for your future." Or, "you're lucky you only sprained your wrist when you fell. Next time it could be worse, what can we do to prevent that from happening again?"

Back yourself up with facts. Its human nature to think aging-related disability will never happen to you. When faced with such a proposition, many people react defensively, saying things like "I'm never going to leave this house," or "I'll think about it when the time comes." To get the conversation going it may help to present statistics on how often people over 65 actually do need some forms of long-term care.

Discuss the implications. Point out to your loved one that proper long-term care planning will not only put him or her in a safer position moving forward, but it will also help family members have peace of mind and avoid future conflict. Caring for an ailing aging loved one may put a major strain on families, and planning ahead helps pave the way and reduce that stress.

Make your loved one feel empowered. Explain to your loved one that the more they can plan when well, the more control they will have over their long-term care. For example, putting measures in place to allow them to live at home as long as possible rather than moving in to an assisted living or nursing home facility. It's much better to plan while in good mental and physical health than to leave it to others should you become incapacitated.

Pull in a professional. If you are having trouble getting through to your loved one, or if you just want to add an expert perspective to the ongoing conversation, encourage a discussion with a professional. Talk to a geriatric medicine physician, elder law attorney, social worker, or a combination of these experts depending on your loved one's needs. Your local Area Agency on Aging is also a good resource.

Crunch the numbers. When you look at the cost of long-term care, the numbers can shock anyone into reality. Use an online calculator to estimate your loved one's long-term care costs (you can find one at https://www.genworth.com/long-term-care-insurance/source/make-a-plan/cost-of-care.html), and start planning financially as well as logistically. Such financial steps could include dedicating savings specifically for long-term care, purchasing long-term care insurance, buying life insurance or an annuity with long-term care benefits, or reviewing options for using or preserving a home's equity. As you approach the tenuous topic of long-term care with a loved one, remember: it's never too early to get the conversation started.

For more resources on how to have "the talk," visit genworth.com.

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