Five Common Myths About Aging

Shirley MalloryIf you’re over 40, you probably know someone who is helping an older parent – and even more who are keeping fingers crossed, hoping mom and dad stay healthy. Others don’t seem to recognize that there’s a crisis in the making. “They’ll let us know when they need us” is a common refrain.

That’s just one of five common myths that keep people from making a plan before a sudden event throws a family into turmoil. We hope this list – along with some of the solutions offered from my own experience and passed along by other experts – helps you and your family make a solid plan for the future.

Myth #1: Medicare will cover nursing home costs.

With a rapidly changing healthcare environment, it’s not an exaggeration to say that what’s true about Medicare today may not be true tomorrow. But one thing is certain: Medicare does not cover the cost of long-term skilled nursing care.

Medicare does cover short-term rehabilitation therapy following qualified hospital stays, but the rules are tightening and rates shrinking in many cases. Medicaid, the state-financed public aid program providing long-term care for indigent seniors, is administered differently from state to state. Some states are reducing costs for senior care to absorb new costs for covering uninsured families.

Myth #2: My parents can always live with us.

It’s a rare parent who wants to live with one of their children. A Genworth Financial study found that five times more retirees were fearful of “being a burden” than of dying.  But even when all parties are willing, the promise can be hard or even impossible to keep.

Chronic illnesses requiring round-the-clock care and regular medical intervention can tax even healthy caregivers. Sometimes that promise of care – made with the best of intentions – simply isn’t realistic. A bad living situation can damage family relationships, or even keep mom or dad from an arrangement that could give them better health or more independence and enjoyment with others.

Myth #3: They’ll tell us when they want to make a change.

The loss of ability and independence often is so gradual that people closest to the situation fail to see the need until there’s a crisis. Perhaps everything was fine until Dad died. Suddenly, everyone realized that Mom can no longer drive and is completely dependent on others to go anywhere. Now she has to make that move they talked about for so long all by herself.

It’s so important to plan ahead because a day can make all the difference in the life of an older parent.  In all states, only a person who is mentally competent can grant power of attorney to someone they trust. If a parent is suddenly incapacitated, it’s too late, and family members can spend weeks and months sorting out finances and medical coverage. Expressing known wishes in writing can spare families from terrible scenes.

Myth #4: My parents can’t afford to move.

More options are available to families than ever before. Dollar for dollar, some service-rich living arrangements compare well to the costs of staying put and generally provide far more advantages. Living situations often can be enhanced with in-home services, such as Asbury Home Services, which offers everything from grocery shopping and rides to bathing assistance and medical services.

The best advice is do your homework like a good kid. Any reputable senior living organization will welcome your interest and show you around. If you’re upfront about your parent’s financial means, they’ll let you know whether there’s a good fit. Be sure to ask what happens if your parent outlives their money through no fault of their own. Some not-for-profits, like Asbury, offer a Benevolent Care Policy ensuring that your parent will always have a place to call home. Remember, tax benefits or long-term care insurance can help offset the cost of some care.

Myth #5: They’re declining, but that’s just part of getting old.

Aging is often blamed for losses that are actually caused by a poor lifestyle. There’s a growing body of evidence showing that people with strong connections to others live longer. A great social life is a good wellness decision! It’s possible your parent’s lifestyle, especially if they’re lonely or isolated, is making them weaker and “older.” The good news: many aging declines are reversible through exercise and engagement with others.

Many of us tend to think we’ll never need long-term care, but the truth is that 60 percent of all Americans who reach age 65 will access long-term care at some point in their lives. Brush away the myths. Aging successfully requires a plan.

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