It’s hard to predict how long you’ll need long-term care in the future, but based on the statistics, it's likely going to be longer than you think.

The time to plan for long term care expenses and other health care costs in retirement is before you actually need them. Let’s take a look at what might go into the decision and the options available to you.

What are the chances I will need long-term care?

Of course, there are multiple personal health factors to consider when trying to answer this question. But generally, about half of Americans who live to age 65 develop a need for long-term-care services and support in their lifetime.

Another often-cited estimate from the National Center for Assisted Living says that after a median stay of 22 months in assisted living, 60 percent of residents will transition to a skilled nursing center. Once in a nursing home, about half of residents stay for at least a year, while 21 percent live there for almost five years, according to the Health in Aging Foundation.

What is meant by long-term care?

Now that you know the statistics on the prevalence of long-term care, you might be wondering what that encompasses.

Generally, long term care refers to a broad category of services that help people perform certain activities of daily living when they are unable to do so themselves, whether due to cognitive or physical impairments. Sometimes, help with these self-care activities and daily tasks, from bathing and dressing to running errands and paying bills, are provided by friends and family members, or may come from a home health aide or health care worker that you pay to come to your home.

Eventually you might opt to move to an assisted living facility, communities designed to provide a broad range of assistance that can include housekeeping and maintenance, dining services, laundry, transportation and other personal care services. Many senior living communities also have additional amenities, such as health and wellness programs and outlets to feed creative, cultural, educational, social and religious pursuits.

An assisted living service will also frequently work with providers to offer a variety of services that may include:

  • Dental

  • Mental health

  • Pharmacy

  • Podiatry

  • Therapy, such as physical, occupational or speech

In addition, they often help residents manage chronic conditions, such as diabetes and cardiovascular needs, with some having designated dementia units or floors.

If you need more care than an assisted living facility can provide, the next option would likely be a nursing home, which provides more traditional medical services administered by medical professionals. Almost half of those living in nursing homes are 85 years or older, and 72 percent are women.

How much does long-term care cost?

The cost of covering long term care can vary greatly depending on the level of care you need and for how long.

According to Northwestern Mutual’s 2020 Cost of Care study, a home health aide or certified health care worker averages $26 an hour — at this rate, full-time daily help could add up to more than $75,000 per year. Meanwhile, the average price for a one-bedroom apartment in an assisted living facility is $4,800 a month (or more than $57,000 per year) and private rooms in a nursing home average $113,000 a year. (This calculator can help you estimate costs in your area of the country.)

How you ultimately spend your later years will be an unknown, but it’s safe to assume that you’ll need long-term-care services at some point in your life, whether that’s at home or in a facility. That’s why it’s paramount to create a financial plan that includes long-term-care planning so that you and your family won’t have to be worry about affording the best option for your situation. A financial advisor can help you incorporate the cost of long-term care into your plan.

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