10 Things You Must Know About Caring for Your Parents

  1. You are not alone. Today, 40 million Americans are caring for an elderly parent or disabled relative. As our parents age, more than two out of every three of them will need some personal assistance.
  2. Long-term care is not medical care. It is the personal assistance the disabled and frail elderly need to improve the quality of their lives. It may be help eating, bathing, or going to the bathroom. It may be a ride to the doctor or the grocery store, or help balancing a checkbook or cooking dinner.
  3. Most of us get this care at home or in the home of an adult child or relative, not in a nursing home. In fact, nearly 80 percent of the frail elderly and the disabled live at home. Fewer than 15 percent live in nursing homes.
  4. While most of our parents prefer to stay at home, it is not always the best place for them. Living at home can be lonely and often dangerous. For those who are very ill, it may also be just as expensive as a nursing home. But if your mom or dad needs lots of help, look for other options besides nursing facilities.
  5. Medicare will not pay for long-term care. Neither will Medicare Supplement insurance (Medigap). These programs will pay only for limited nursing home or home health care, and only after a patient is discharged from the hospital.
  6. Medicaid, the joint federal/state medical program for the poor, pays for half of all long-term care costs in America. But in order to be eligible, your mom or dad must exhaust their financial assets, have very limited income, and be extremely frail or have severe memory loss.
  7. While Medicaid is slowly beginning to assist people living at home, in many states the program will pay for care only if your mom or dad is in a nursing home.
  8. Less than ten percent of personal care costs in the U.S. are paid by private long-term care insurance. While politicians often talk about the crisis of the uninsured, remember this: More than 80 percent of Americans have health insurance, usually through their jobs or from Medicare. Yet only seven percent of us have long-term care coverage. That is the real crisis of the uninsured.
  9. Long-term care insurance can be a good deal for those who are financially secure and risk-averse. However, many Americans either can’t afford it, or are already too sick or too old to buy it.
  10. The most important thing to know: Caring for an aging and frail parent or disabled relative may be the hardest thing you’ll ever do in your life. But it can also be the most rewarding.