The daunting cost of senior care

Having spent the past 10 years caring for over 1,200 clients in New Hampshire and providing support and guidance to their families, I have come to realize that care options and cost of care are not widely understood. Nor is the average consumer aware that planning for care is similar to planning for a child’s education — there is a need to plan ahead or you may not end up where you want to be or end up paying too much.The need for planning is becoming more important as our nation’s demographics are evolving to a situation which has never been seen before. The nation’s population of senior citizens is about to rise to historic levels. Some 78 million men and women — the generation known as the baby boomers — were born between 1946 and 1964. The first wave of Boomers started turning 65 in January 1, 2011 at a rate of more than 8,000 a day. By year’s end, the nation’s senior population will grow by almost 3 million, to a total of 49 million. By 2025, the senior population, which was 35 million in 2000, will have more than doubled, to 72 million.As older adults continue to age, many will experience various health problems, such as impaired mobility, strokes, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, to name just a few. Some ailments will be long lasting, and some will occur in combinations. In fact, 80 percent of the nation’s seniors have one chronic health condition, and 50 percent have at least two.Historically, as families were planning for a loved one’s care, there were only two options — to move in with a loved one or be placed in a nursing home. In the last two decades, there has been a proliferation of care options, including family care, senior centers, adult day centers, non-medical care at home, medical care at home, retirement and independent living communities, assisted living communities, skilled nursing homes and continued care retirement communities. These expanded choices allow for a family’s care plan to be more dynamic and cost-effective, since one can receive assistance only as needed, when needed.A little homeworkResearching the options and pricing is best left with you, the consumer. To do this, it is important to educate yourself on the available care options, the costs associated with each option and understand when it is most appropriate to use. Getting advice from additional sources is advisable — preferably more than one is recommended.Ask questions — realize no one source is the authority on all care and find what is best for your family. Having done your homework up-front, you will better know how to use the advice and information you gather.The most successful way to manage the cost of care is to only purchase what you need when you need it. But what does this entail?Years ago, it was not uncommon for a person to sell the family home and move into a community for seniors long before any care was needed. Although downsizing initially may seem attractive, you must consider that a move to such a senior community costs a person, on average, between $40,000 and $60,000 per year. If services and the monthly costs associated exceed needs, then those dollars are wasted, and could be better saved for future care.Additionally, it is important to understand the beginning signs of aging, which include: losing track of medications; losing interest in meals; declining personal hygiene; declining driving skills; scorched pots and pans; signs of depression; missed doctors’ appointments and social engagements; household bills piling up; and an unkempt house. Early intervention can also help to lower cost of care in the long run and provide for an overall higher quality of life.The cost of senior care can be daunting, but if you do a little homework, you can help to reduce the overall cost by planning ahead, seeking resources and information, and educating yourself about the care options that are available. That way, you can find what options are best for you to ensure the highest-quality, affordable care for you and your family.Lisa Ganem, owner of Portsmouth-based Home Instead Senior Care of Seacoast and Southern New Hampshire, can be reached at 603-433-5959 or