Reduce your odds of needing long-term care
1. Take steps to reduce the need for long-term care
2. Develop a plan for paying for long-term care in case you need it
If you need additional motivation to think about long-term care, check out the recent report, "Effects of Nursing Home Stays on Household Portfolios," from the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI). The report statistically demonstrates what we already know: A stay in a nursing home can financially wipe out a family. For example, the report shows that for those who have lived in a nursing home for six months or more, the median total household wealth was just $5,518.
This post focuses on the first action step -- reducing the odds that you'll need long-term care. On this point, the EBRI study reports that among people age 65 and older, nursing home stays increased from 6 percent of the population in 2000 to 8.5 percent in 2010.
So what conditions typically lead to the need for long-term care? Alzheimer's and dementia are the leading causes, followed by living alone, frailty that naturally comes with old age, major depression, and strokes.
You can help reduce the odds of Alzheimer's and dementia through regular exercise, eating a low-fat diet, maintaining a healthy weight, keeping your brain active by constantly learning new things, and staying involved in your community. Activities that research supports as particularly effective are ballroom dancing, playing a musical instrument, and learning a foreign language. These activities improve your brain's health by stimulating blood flow and forming new neural connections.
You can stave off age-related frailty by doing some form of aerobic exercise, participating in weight-bearing exercise, and doing exercises that improve your balance. Vigorous walking, yoga, pilates, and tai chi are particularly effective for meeting one or more of these goals as you age.
All of the activities mentioned above can also reduce the odds of strokes and depression, conditions that can result in a need for long-term care.
You can learn more about the research that supports these action steps by reading two excellent books: "Healthy at 100: The Scientifically Proven Secrets of the World's Healthiest and Longest-Lived Peoples,"by John Robbins, and "The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who've Lived the Longest," by Dan Buettner. This insightful interview I conducted with John Robbins elaborates on his experience and research.
As a result of what we've learned about taking care of our mental and physical health, my wife and I are determined to do yoga a few times each week, take long walks, become regulars at the gym and the swimming pool, and continue our ballroom dancing activity. We also plan to ramp up our involvement with a faith-based community, an excellent way to stay involved with issues that are important to us. At the very least, we're having fun, and these activities are great for enhancing our relationship. Any boost to our healthy life expectancy is just icing on the cake.
Taking these action steps won't guarantee that you won't have a long-term care event. As with anything in life, there are no guarantees. It's also possible these activities may extend your lifespan and the number of years you're healthy and living independently, and then you'll still have a long-term care event at the end of your life.
But these activities can also significantly reduce the odds that you'll need long-term care, or reduce the time that you need such care. And if everybody takes these steps, fewer people will need such care, effectively reducing society's burden and improving our ability to help people who are truly in need.
At the very least, taking positive steps will put you on the road to better mental and physical health. It's one of my antidotes to despairing about the threat of needing long-term care. It also demonstrates that we need to think beyond financial solutions to best meet all of our retirement challenges. Stay tuned for my thoughts on paying for long-term care if you need it in spite of the action steps you've taken.
Popular on MoneyWatch
- Seeking solutions to the student aid mess
- Reverse cell phone lookup service is free and simple
- Amy's Baking Company: Post-meltdown PR campaign
- Yahoo buys blogging site Tumblr for $1.1 billion
- LinkedIn: 3 tips for building a better profile
- Fired for violating an unwritten policy
- Kellogg re-inventing Special K brand
- Student loans -- public or private?