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Senior Living: Make plan for long-term care

Creating a long-term care plan while you are still able to do so is important for you and those you love.

The discussion is not a pleasant one, and many avoid it, but once you have a plan in place, a weight will be lifted from those who might care for you when you cannot care for yourself.

Caregivers, for the most part, want to do what their aging loved ones would want.

My parents never discussed long-term care in specifics. My sister and I made up the plan as we went from one issue to another. In the end, our efforts paid off, but differences had to be worked out between us.

Long-term care goals differ from other types of health care in that they aren’t necessarily geared toward curing an illness. They allow an individual to attain and maintain an optimal level of functioning.

A long-term care plan includes future medical care, social interaction, personal matters, finances and housing, but it also can address how to navigate the legal, family and social dynamics along the way. The plan refers to the range of services and support an individual might need over an extended period of time. In reality, most long-term care is not medical, but rather assistance with the basic tasks of everyday life, sometimes called the “activities of daily living.”

Statistics show that 70 percent of people turning 65 can expect to need some form of long-term care during their life. There is no way to accurately predict whether or not you will actually need these services, but several factors affect the possibility. Age, gender, chronic illness, disability, diet, exercise and family history are some of the variables. How long and the type of care required will vary from person to person and can change over time. In general, women need care longer than men because they live longer.

Services can be provided in a person’s home, in a community setting or a facility. Facilities include home sharing, assisted living, continuing care retirement communities and nursing homes.

Long-term care services at home are generally by a family member, friend or volunteer in the community. Most of this type of care is courtesy of unpaid caregivers who provide emotional, financial, nursing, social, homemaking and other services.

Home-care agencies can provide supplemental services to those living in their homes, as needed. Most communities have adult day-care services and respite care available to provide time off for caregivers.

It is important to note that home care (aging in place) allows people to maintain a level of independence by living in their homes and have a greater say in what services they receive and who provides them. Whether or not aging in place is realistic depends on many factors, including your health needs; availability of family or other assistance; the condition of your home and whether it can be modified for special needs, if necessary; the availability of additional services in your community; and how “aging friendly” your community is.

Outside the home, a variety of facility-based programs offer more options, including home sharing, assisted living, continuing care retirement communities and nursing homes. With facility-based care, you will not have the same flexibility in choices that you have at home.

Assessing the available options to determine what best fits your needs can be confusing at best. There are professionals who can shed light on the decisions to be made, and it would be beneficial to consult with one of them. Generally, they are familiar with the different facilities and what they offer.

In the end, making these decisions ahead of time, keeps you in control of your life — and gives your loved ones peace of mind that they are caring for you in the way you would want.

Next time: What does long-term care cost and how do you pay for it?

Karen Courney has lived in Naperville since 1970. Contact her at sunseniorliving@gmail.com

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