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What We Don't Know About Long-Term Care ... Is a Lot

New polling finds Americans in midlife woefully uninformed about the realities and cost of aging. We have the answers.

By Gary Drevitch

Americans over 40 — in other words, us — are dangerously unaware of our likely need for long-term care when we age and woefully ignorant about the costs, according to a new poll of adults in midlife and beyond.
The telephone survey of 1,019 boomers over age 40 was conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and financed by the non-profit SCAN Foundation, which supports research and other initiatives on aging and health care. It found that many older Americans had barely begun to think about their long-term care needs, nevermind put aside money to cover them. For example, nearly 31 percent of respondents said getting older was something they'd rather not think about.

Following are other highlights from the poll, along with advice available on Next Avenue to help you avoid falling short when the time comes.

Who's Ready to Get Older?

Only 16 percent of those surveyed said they had done a great deal of planning for their long-term living assistance needs; two-thirds admitted they'd barely started preparing. Looking deeper, only 8 percent of respondents between age 40 and 54 — and just 30 percent of those over 65 — said they'd begun long-term care planning. In addition, just 47 percent said they had created an advance directive (or living will) to designate someone to make decisions for them in the event that they can't. Learn more about creating a living will and talking about your choices with your family.

Who Will Need Help?

The survey found that even many of us who have been caregivers for our own parents have taken no steps to prepare for the day our children may need to look after us. Fifty-three percent of people responding to the survey said they had provided care for a family member or close friend, yet only 24 percent said they thought it was very likely that they'd ever require ongoing living assistance themselves.

And while 77 percent said they were confident their spouse or partner would help them as they aged, if need be, only 46 percent said they were sure they could count on their children. Maybe that hesitancy reflects the fact that nearly 60 percent of respondents had not talked to loved ones about the possibility. That's surprising, considering 95 percent who had been family caregivers say the role was fulfilling and 72 percent say it was stressful.

(MORE: Can You Afford to Become a Caregiver?)

Almost half of respondents – 48 percent – said they thought "just about everyone" will need ongoing living assistance at some point, even if they never become seriously ill. The federal government estimates that 70 percent of American adults will require long-term care at some point after age 65, on average for at least three years. Learn more about preparing financially and emotionally for becoming a caregiver.
Who Can Afford to Get Old?


In the survey, 58 percent of people over 40 guessed that living in a nursing home cost less than $6,000 a month, but nursing homes actually average $6,700 per month nationwide. Respondents' estimates of assisted-living facility and home health aide costs were more encouraging: Only 31 percent underestimated the average monthly cost of the former ($3,000 to $4,000) and 14 percent underestimated the average monthly cost of the latter ($1,000 to $2,000).

(MORE: Cost of Dementia Care, Already High, Will Only Soar)

Still, when it comes to long-term care savings, many of us have not faced reality. Only 33 percent of those surveyed said they doubted they'd have the financial resources to cover their care needs as they age, which makes sense when you consider that only about a third of respondents said they'd begun setting money aside. As for the rest of us, it's time to take financial action. Learn more about what you need to be saving to finance your retirement and your long-term care needs.

Will the Government Help?

Our knowledge of what's covered by Medicare and Medicaid is also fairly remedial. For example, 44 percent thought Medicare, the national health insurance program for seniors, paid for care by home health aides; 37 percent thought the program covered nursing home fees. But Medicare does not cover nursing home costs and it covers home aides only in certain cases. As for Medicaid, the federal program for Americans with low or no income, only 39 percent of respondents thought they might ever need to rely on it to cover long-term living costs. The reality is that Medicaid pays the bulk of the nation's long-term care costs, usually after people have spent their retirement savings. Learn the truth behind five Medicare myths.

Gary Drevitch was senior Web editor for Next Avenue's Caregiving and Health channels. Read More
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