There are some phone calls you never forget.
"I found your Dad unconscious on the floor. The ambulance just left. I'm going to the hospital. What are we going to do?"
That early afternoon phone call from 1,800 miles away changed our lives forever. What we only came to realize later was how caring for a stroke victim would profoundly affect the next 12 years of my mother's life, and my own as a long-distance caregiver. And, how ill-prepared we were to face the everchanging issues of long-term care.
Stories like this happen every day. And most of us are not ready for the resulting emotional and financial havoc. As professionals in the field of aging, many of us provide direct assistance to help families cope, make decisions and plan for the future. Yet we too often don't have a plan for our own long-term-care needs. Long-term care is a woman's issue - one that too many of us ignore.
WOMEN AND THE STATS ON LONG-TERM CARE
Women are particularly hard hit by long-term-care needs. First, they are often called upon to be die primary caregiver for elderly family members or their own partners. That may mean cutting back on or stopping work earlier than planned, reducing the financial resources mey will have available for dieir own care.
Second, because women live longer man uen, they are more likely to require care for a longer period of time. And third, women save less for retirement than men. Whether this is because of lower income or more conservative savings, mey end up with fewer funds to support dieir long-term-care-needs as they age.
"Long-term care is a critically important issue for women," says Jesse Slome, executive director of the American Association for Long-term Care Insurance (AALTCI), a national trade group. "The vast majority of women who are age 50 or older considerably underestimate the risk and have no plan in place."
According to the Association's publication, A Woman 's Guide to Long-Term Care Insurance Planning, women are far more likely to reach an age when they will be the recipients of long-term care. Some 980,000 women ages 65 and older are nursing home residents, compared with only 337,000 men.
Nearly three-fourths (73.6%) of assisted living residents are women. And twice as many women ages 65 and older are being cared for in a home setting man men (3.27 million versus 1.68 million). When it comes to long-term-care insurance, women account for nearly two-thirds of the $6 billion in annual benefit dollars paid, according to AALTCI.
WOMEN MUST PLAN FOR THE FUTURE
On average, women fall behind men when it comes to saving for retirement and long-term-care costs. A recent study by LIMRA (Life Insurance and Market Research Association), Gender Matters: Retirement Savings of Working Men and Women, found that average defined contribution (DC) plan balances of working women ages 50 years or older are below those of working men of the same age by nearly $63,000.
While retirement savings and insurance are important, they shouldn't be confused with having a long-term-care plan. A long-term-care plan is far more comprehensive and includes identifying services and support; housing options; funding long-term-care assistance; and legal issues, such as advance directives and a living will.
Where do you start? The National Clearinghouse for Long-term Care Information has a wealth of information that can help your clients or your family; or you can walk yourself through the steps of creating a long-term-care plan (see "Resources" sidebar on page 15).
Begin by asking yourself how you would answer the following questions:
Who will help care for you? We make assumptions about this, but rarely do we talk with our family about it directly. It is difficult to imagine ourselves in need of care - and even more difficult to ask for help. Yet one of the greatest gifts we can give a partner, child or sibling is clear guidance about how we want to be cared for. …