New state publication offers guide to healthy, happy old age

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By Brian Goslow

BOSTON —

A new U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-funded publication is aimed at making Massachusetts families aware of the long-term needs they will face in the years ahead. It gives plenty of ideas on how to make those years as healthy and enjoyable as possible.

Gov. Deval Patrick, Secretary of Elder Affairs Ann L. Hartstein and Undersecretary of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation Barbara Anthony announced the release of the 44-page Embrace Your Future planning guide in late January. The governor’s Office sent out 400,000 letters and brochures to state residents encouraging them to mail the enclosed pre-paid reply postcard to receive a free copy.

The guide encourages state residents to begin thinking about and planning for the future they want for themselves and their loved ones and provides an array of step-by-step resources for that purpose.

“We wrote it in such a way as to have those conversations (people normally avoid),” Hartstein said. “It’s a pretty non-threatening conversation they can have about things that are important in their lives. Parents can talk with their family members about the roles they want them to play (in addressing potential health and financial issues).”

For still-working baby boomers, there are tips from increasing the amount they put in their retirement savings and finding out whether their employer offers long-term care insurance, to staying physically active, to considering physical modifications to their home that could enhance their senior years.

The increasingly clear message is that adopting a healthier, more active lifestyle — eating more nutritional food and volunteering time so as to stay active and engaged in the community, for instance — can lower the risk of becoming disabled in later years. “People are starting to understand they have a role to play in how they function in life and that how they live today can play a role in their avoiding disabilities later in life,” Hartstein said.

However, as people live longer and healthier lives, the likelihood they will need long-term supports at some point also increases. Long-term supports are services designed to meet health and/or personal care needs over an extended period of time. Most include assistance with daily activities including shopping, laundry, preparing meals, and personal care including bathing, dressing or eating. This isn’t just a senior health issue, Hartstein pointed out, noting that nearly 40 percent of residents receiving long-term support are between the ages of 18 and 64.

With statistics predicting that more than two-thirds of state residents will need long-term support at some point in their lives, Hartstein said, it’s essential that planning for that likelihood begin as soon as possible.

Medicare and Medicare supplemental insurance generally do not pay for long-term support services and MassHealth (Medicaid) only pays for long-term supports for those with limited means. Many state residents only qualify for MassHealth after long-term support expenses have drained their financial resources.

A checklist at the end of the Embrace Your Future guide will serve as an icebreaker and a reminder of important things each resident should do for their long-term health planning, from eating healthier diets and exercising, learning about Medicare and Medicaid (MassHealth), advanced health directives, exploring new housing options and looking after their financial affairs.

“The checklist is definitely a roadmap on how to proceed,” Hartstein said. “People can work on each item on a one-by-one basis. (After looking at it) there will be a lot of discussions on how each thing on the list will affect them.”

The Embrace Your Future guide includes phone numbers and website links to Massachusetts-specific and national health and finance resources.

For more information: www.800ageinfo.com or call 866-752-6582.