Most people significantly underestimate just how much they may have to spend in the last years and decades of their life, and they especially don’t anticipate having to spend that much for an aging parent or relative. Or even if they do anticipate the expense of eldercare, it’s still too much of a burden for them.
Medicare helps, but not nearly as much as many people expect. Medicare is for acute medical issues, like a broken hip from a fall or a heart attack. But in terms of long term care for day-to-day life for those no longer able to fully care for themselves, it does almost nothing, covering a maximum of 20 days in a nursing home, and little if anything for an assisted living facility, or for the expenses of in-home care.
The average cost for a resident at an assisted living facility is climbing close to $40,000 per year, while the cost for a nursing home is roughly double that. And it’s not as if you can bypass the exorbitant costs entirely by moving your aged parent in with you and providing care in your home. You still have to pay for everything from medical costs beyond what Medicare pays, to installation of a grab bar in the shower, to installation of a wheelchair ramp, to adult diapers. Not to mention the opportunity cost of the extra labor and missed employment of caring for an elderly person.
There’s no secret way to make elder care financially painless. But there are some options to consider to ease the burden:
1. Long term care insurance
Experts are split on whether these are good deals or not, but it’s worth looking into it yourself to see if it is something that could work for you.
Depending on how young you start, you may have to pay $50, $100, or $150 a month for a long term care policy, which would then pay, say, $100 a day for three years if and when as a senior you find yourself needing to move into a nursing home. That’ll certainly ease the burden when the time comes, but of course it eats up a lot of resources now.
2. Health care savings plan
Some employers offer a health care savings plan, or “flex” plan, which allows you to deposit pre-tax funds into an account and then use them for medical expenses. This can include certain expenses you incur for someone else, such as caring for an elderly family member at home.
Medicaid benefits vary from state to state, and a person has to have gone through most or all of their resources to be poor enough to be eligible for it, but it’s there to help in desperate situations, including sometimes covering nursing home care.
Yes, it’s always a blow to self-esteem to rely on the generosity of others, but there are many charities that sincerely desire to help with the cost of elder care. The Eldercare Locator from the Administration on Aging of the Department of Health and Human Services is an excellent resource for locating any and all local agencies in your community who could direct you to possible sources of assistance.
5. Part time caregiver
Sometimes when it’s not realistic to give up one’s employment and stay home full time with an elderly parent or other senior, people feel they have no choice but to move the person into an assisted living facility or nursing home once it’s not safe to leave them entirely on their own.
But often the senior is mostly able to look after him or herself, and really a fairly low level of care is needed-perhaps as little as just someone to check in on them once or twice a day. Depending on whether you’re hiring someone with the capacity to provide medical care such as a home health aide, or just asking a nearby friend, student, someone from your church, volunteer, neighbor, etc. to stop by during the day, the cost need not be high, and can certainly be less than giving up your job or paying for an assisted living residence.
6. Adult day care
Along the same lines, if you have an elderly family member who is mostly functional but you’re concerned about leaving them alone all day while everyone else is at work or school, there are adult day cares that operate on basically the same principle as child day cares. They are a place in the community for seniors to gather that provide activities, recreation, and companionship. Often they will pick up and deliver the senior each day. Again, it’s not too pricey, at least compared to the alternatives.
7. Shopping facilities and negotiating their cost
If you decide that an assisted living facility or a nursing home is the best option, try to prepare in advance and not be left scrambling around at the last minute looking for a place for your loved one when, say, the hospital is about to discharge him or her.
Here too, Eldercare Locator is a good starting point to see what facilities are available in your area.
Cost is obviously one of the factors to look at when choosing from among the possibilities. Be aware that facilities, especially if they are under capacity, may well be willing to negotiate the price if you ask. There may also be options such as shared rooms rather than fully private rooms that are significantly less expensive.
8. Geriatric-care manager
At $80-$200 an hour, it sounds like the last thing a budget-conscious person should consider, but hiring a geriatric-care manager to coordinate elder care can in some cases save much more than it costs. Even this brief list shows there are many options-governmental and private programs and more-for elder care. It’s tough to navigate through all this and be confident you’ve found the best approach, in terms of cost and otherwise. There may be tax breaks you’re unaware of, Medicare provisions you’re not taking advantage of, a person who could come to your home to provide equal or better part time care for half of what you’re currently paying, etc.
A geriatric-care manager is someone whose job it is to know all about all the options and to be able to get your elder care set up most advantageously.
It’s very difficult caring for oneself or a loved one when aging causes the expenses to pile up. But there are ideas and resources out there to investigate, ways to get a little help.
Michele Andrews. “4 Ways to Cover the Cost of Long-Term Care.” U.S. News & World Report.
Jane Gross, “Elder-Care Costs Deplete Savings of a Generation.” New York Times.
Lisa Scherzer, “5 Ways to Cut Elder-Care Costs.” Smart Money.
“How to Pay for Family Elder Care.” eHow.