By Dave Carpenter
Assisted living may be in your future.
That may not be an ideal scenario for most retirees, given its association with a loss of independence. But it’s becoming reality for many as living in retirement for decades becomes more common.
There are close to a million residents in some 38,000 assisted living facilities across the country, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. That population is expected to soar as the number of retired baby boomers continues to grow.
But even before their retirement, many boomers are having to deal with placing elderly parents in an assisted living or other type of care facility. That means it’s time to do some homework on this residential option — an intermediate step between independent living and nursing home care — and in many cases to cast aside preconceived ideas.
“The name has a connotation of ‘I can’t live by myself any more,’ ” said Ellen Eichelbaum, a Northport, N.Y.-based gerontologist whose company, The SpeakEasy Group, consults on aging issues. “But an assisted living facility provides a lot of the social and security issues that seniors are worried about.”
It takes away the burden of having to care for your home and allows you to be part of a community, she said. And if you don’t feel well, help is just a button away.
“You can still be near your kids,” Eichelbaum said. “You can still go food shopping, you can go to the movies. You just won’t have the burden of your house.”
Here are some things you should know about assisted living facilities.
They are residential communities that offer different levels of health or personal care services for seniors who want or need help with some daily activities — anything from cooking to transportation to dressing and bathing.
What they’re not is nursing homes that address major medical needs. They are designed to provide a home-like setting for residents who want to live independently with minimal assistance.
The average age of residents in assisted living facilities in 2009 was about 87, according to the National Center for Assisted Living, an organization representing long-term care providers. Three-quarters of the residents are female. They stay at the assisted living residence for an average of about 28 months, and the majority then move on to a nursing facility.
Services offered vary widely but typically include 24-hour emergency care, some medical services and help with medications, limited assistance with personal care, meals, housekeeping, laundry, transportation and recreational activities. Large facilities may have private apartments as well as shared and private rooms.
AARP suggests checking with a state or local agency on aging, the Yellow Pages, the Assisted Living Federation of America and the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, as well as with friends, neighbors and books on retirement.
If looking on behalf of your parents, check your own local neighborhoods first. Most residents of assisted living facilities in urban areas who have children live within five to seven miles of them, according to Eichelbaum.
The cost of assisted living facilities varies greatly depending on size, location and services. The median rate for a private room is $3,261 a month, or just over $39,000 a year, according to Genworth Financial Inc., which compiles an annual costs survey among long-term care service providers. If you need a home health aide on top of that, the median cost nationwide is $19 an hour.
Neither Medicare nor health insurance policies pay for assisted living. Medicaid covers only some services, and not in every facility or every state.
Long-term care insurance may cover most of the costs, depending on your policy. But if you haven’t bought coverage well ahead of time, you may not be eligible and able to afford it.
AARP said four out of five residents pay for assisted living out of pocket. Veterans who need assistance can qualify for up to $1,949 a month if married, $1,644 if single or $1,055 for surviving spouses through the Aid and Attendance Pension.
There are three basic types of living options for seniors as they age: independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing. To avoid needing to move every time more assistance is needed, continuing care retirement communities are worth considering. They offer a variety of services for all three levels within one community. But this tiered approach is expensive. Entrance fees can range from $100,000 to $1 million, and monthly charges can range from $3,000 to $5,000, increasing as needs change.
Do the research before you have an immediate need. Having an idea of the cost and availability of options in your community is essential. If local facilities aren’t appropriate or affordable, it may be worth considering relocating to a community with one that fits you or your parents better.
It’s probably too late for your elderly parents to obtain long-term care insurance, but getting it for yourself in your 50s or early 60s is an important step to finance your own future care in an assisted living facility or elsewhere.
Getting siblings to agree ahead of time to a plan for an aging parent and how to finance it is important too, said Amy Goyer, AARP’s family expert. “If you wait until the crisis time, often the burden just falls on who’s closest,” she said. “That can be much harder and unfair for some family members.”
Doing research on assisted living options ahead of time is critical to finding a good fit for either an elderly loved one or yourself in the future. — AP
The following links have useful information:
•Basics on assisted living: Helpguide.org/elder/assisted_living_facilities.htm.
• More basics: Boomers-with-elderly-parents.com, bit.ly/vbBO3O.
•Questions to ask: WebMD, bit.ly/rQXX8x.
•How to proceed: AARP, aarp.us/vQOANg.
•Paying: Bankrate, bit.ly/tildFS.
•Assisted Living Federation of America: www.alfa.org.