Navigating long-term care: From complexity to simplicity

We cannot control the aging process, but we can determine how we plan for it.

Disease and health conditions do not discriminate by family size. Long-term care (LTC) planning is a necessity whether you have a family of 10 with multiple siblings who make decisions or a family of one with individuals who don’t have children or spouses.

LTC is not a one-size-fits-all process. Personalities, objectives, care plans, course corrections, and communication create the need for flexible, empathetic, and structured care plans administered in concert among families and care management professionals.

I have worked with families as a LTC professional for over 22 years. As an adult son with two aging parents at home, I understand that every person has a story and every family has a unique history. Some are warm and humorous, some are heartfelt, and some are complicated.

Navigating LTC without a plan and without a team can be a challenging, emotionally charged, and complex process. But LTC is manageable when families partner with care management companies that can simplify the complexities.

In my experience, there are three core complexities within the LTC process — fundamental issues with which families often struggle at various stages of a LTC journey. Within these areas, families can benefit by working with a skilled, experienced, often-licensed, and impartial care manager or care specialist who can help manage personal, private, and professional snafus.

Families are complicated

At times, the LTC journey involves not only coordinating care, but also coordinating family member participation. Organization is the remedy to stressful care situations.

We all come from different backgrounds and have different experiences, and we all have different caregiving needs. Some of the primary goals of care management professionals involve customizing the approach: get to know a person; understand their needs; establish benchmarks; develop a care plan; work within their lifestyle; and allow for flexibility.

Often, caring for aging parents turns into a role reversal. It can take time to adjust to this change in dynamics. Siblings sometimes do not agree with care plans. Other family members may not agree with care plans or may not grasp the big picture.

Add out-of-town family members to the mix, and the need for an organized, consistent, and easy-to-communicate LTC plan becomes even more evident.

Solution: Every family should have a “coach,” like a guide or a navigator, to guide them in their LTC journey. Care managers and home care professionals provide an extra layer of experience that, when blended with a family’s wishes, complete the health care composite.

Care professionals can mitigate poor communication between family members. It’s important to consistently and accurately monitor daily routine and care, sudden or gradual changes in behaviors, and overall health improvement or degradation.

These processes are a must for LTC, and health care professionals are trained for them.



Health care is complicated

There is a great dependency on public funding for LTC, and it appears that the demand for funds do not always match costs. Increasingly, families will require creative ways to orchestrate and to fund LTC, but first they must understand the acronyms, the agencies, the accommodations, and the appropriate ways to navigate the system.

Navigating LTC is tough because our health care and LTC systems often are difficult for families to understand. When health issues arise, what are the first steps to finding LTC options? How does one navigate policies, procedures, and preconceptions within the health care industry?

Solution: Sometimes people don’t know the right questions to ask or where to find the answers. It’s important to hire people who know the industry and have worked with countless families in similar situations—professionals who are adept at understanding the personal and business side of health care and can offer solutions.

A care management professional can guide families through the many layers of LTC: language and terms (HMO, PPO, co-pay, deductible, acute care, sub-acute care, palliative care); health care (Medicare A, B, C, D, Medicaid); LTC insurance; private pay; and Veteran’s Administration Benefits to name a few.

LTC planning is complicated

Many people plan for retirement, but few plan for LTC.

Most of us will require LTC in our retirement years. Currently, the average life span is 78.7 years. If Americans are living longer, then who will provide care or supplement family care in their advanced years?

Baby boomers are living longer and healthier, but they will eventually encounter many of the same challenges previous generations have experienced. Solo agers, or boomers who are aging without a spouse and without children, make up 40 percent of adults over 65, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Solution: Working with a LTC professional and/or LTC organization will give you the tools and resources to decipher, to understand, and to navigate the LTC industry.

If you are buying a home, you might research mortgage rates and the housing market, and then identify an experienced realtor who you feel is qualified to find the right fit for your family. Similarly, it’s common to consult an attorney or financial planner when pondering estate planning or when writing a will.

When looking for the right fit, you perform due diligence — identify a firm that instills trust; demonstrates results; and leaves you confident that they will handle your wishes with respect and with confidentiality.

Care management companies bring this same brand of experience, trust, and results to LTC planning. Learn from professionals. Make better financial decisions. Spend quality time with a greater piece of mind — without the stress and burden of having to learn the entire LTC industry from ground level.

Families can leverage the talent of professionals and rely on them to simplify the complicated aspects of LTC. Because as aging shifts, it is becoming more and more evident that LTC is a necessity, not a luxury.

We can’t stop the aging process, but how we plan for it can make all the difference.

Robert Weink is the president of Midwest Family Care, a long-term care organization that specializes in home care, care management, youth support, and assisted living. He is an active member of the Home Care Association of America.

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