One thing just about everyone dreads as they age is the possibility of ending up in a nursing home. We all think we know what that’s like: sharing a room with strangers, sitting slumped in a wheelchair all day, rigid schedules, bad smells. And for more than 1 million [older] Americans, this is home…
During the next decade, roughly 78 million Baby Boomers will officially join the ranks of the elderly. As a result, some will eventually need help with one or more activities of daily living; and others are likely to need the skilled care of a nursing home. In either case, the generation that prides itself on being forever young will finally have to come to terms with getting old. Old age can be a blessing or a curse depending on your perspective—a blessing if you’re healthy, a curse if you’re not.
Nothing is more frightening than losing one’s independence, and having to depend on others for help with daily activities like bathing, dressing, eating, walking or toileting. I learned firsthand what that’s like when crippling primary-progressive multiple sclerosis robbed my 59 year old mother of her independence. She faced the prospect of spending the rest of her life in a nursing home had I not been there to provide care as a family caregiver. With my help and that of home heath aides, mom was able to to remain in her home for the next 22 years. She passed away at age 83.
The abundance of baby boomers means many can care for their aging parents. But a sobering report released today by the AARP Public Policy Institute shows that within the next 20 years, when boomers are in their 80s and need help of their own, there won’t be enough hands to go around.
In the next 10 to 20 years, aging Baby Boomers will find their options dictated by a predicted shortage of both family and professional caregivers. The huge number of aging Baby Boomers threatens to overwhelm the long-term care system in this country. The question is—What is the government doing about it? And why aren’t politicians talking about it in their speeches? Public policy experts warn that America is unprepared for the coming silver tsunami. And yet, Congress is more concerned with cutting Medicare and Medicaid to reduce government’s share of the costs associated with an aging population — a move that places a larger share of the costs and care on individuals and families. AARP’s Lynn Feinberg says we need to come up with a better plan:
It’s a wake-up call for aging boomers. We’re really moving toward an uncertain future. Relying on only your family and friends to provide long-term care isn’t going to be realistic anymore. As a nation we need to think about changes to long-term care that need to begin now, not when the boomers actually need support and care beginning in just 13 years.
Baby Boomers have redefined every other aspect of their lives, why not aging? Re-imagining long-term care for the future is the next challenge. For aging Baby Boomers, being proactive about getting old means deciding how and where you want to spend your waning years. Of course, a lot will depend on your overall health and functioning as you age. A recent study revealed that Baby Boomers are in much poorer health than their parents were at the same age. That being the case, as with a Living Will, it makes sense to express your long term care preference ahead of need for it, if ever. Frankly, it’s one of those decisions that if you don’t make it yourself, someone will make it for you.
More than a few of us have had parents or grandparents who never wanted to have that ‘what if’ conversation, and then ‘what if’ happened. We’ve all been in that mad scramble to pull things together last minute that could have been arranged ahead of time. We don’t have to do ‘aging’ like our parents or grandparents did. Even if you’re not a Baby Boomer, you can still formulate a plan ahead of time, share it with your family or friends, and commit the necessary resources (i.e. personal savings, investments, LTC insurance, legal documents) for that purpose. And certainly, continue to lobby our government for the help it can and should be providing, but don’t depend solely on it. In the end, no matter how the senior care landscape changes, in the next 10, 20 or 30 years, you’ll be prepared.
Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bear fruit in old age; they shall be fresh and flourishing. —Psalm 92:13-14 NKJV
The Lord is my shepherd. I have everything I need.—Psalm 23:1