It's May, and my calendar has a special holiday marked on it: Mother's Day. So Happy Mother's Day to all you moms! This is the day you are honored for the joyous and frequently chaotic work of raising kids and being the CEO of your household.
See also: Take Charge of Your Future Now
However, because you're a mom, you are probably also playing a caregiving role for a loved one — most likely your mom. So in this column, I'd like to take time to look at caregiving through a Mother's Day lens. I want to encourage all caregiving moms to think about your future.
This is my Mother's Day gift to you: permission to take time and seriously consider the issue of long-term care. As a caregiver, you know how hard it is to provide support for a loved one — so take that "frame" and turn it on yourself. What will your long-term care needs be? I think you'll find that the "peace of mind" that comes with planning for this complex issue will make you a better mom, spouse, friend, and caregiver.
Your Long-Term Care Needs
I want to introduce you to Alyson Burns, who is overseeing a terrific multiyear campaign that focuses on the long-term care needs of women. She's very knowledgeable, and I know that our conversation will give you some important insights and action steps that you can use to plan for your future.
Elinor: I've used the term "long-term care." Perhaps it makes sense to start by defining exactly what this means.
Alyson: Elinor, our research shows that many American women are confused and misinformed when it comes to understanding long-term care. First of all, it isn't just about insurance or nursing homes. There's so much more to it. It's determining how you want to live the rest of your life and then taking the steps to make that happen. It's about ensuring that you'll be able to:
Stay in your home for as long as possible
Get any help that you may need, such as bathing or dressing, or even grocery shopping and paying the bills
Be certain that your wishes for how you want care delivered are honored.
The campaign focuses on four buckets that we feel are absolutely necessary to plan for your long-term care needs: Health, Legal, Home & Community, and Finances.
Elinor: I love these buckets! There are so many intriguing aspects to long-term care. For instance, when I think of the big bucket called "Health," it's way more than our current health status. I think of the importance of knowing your family history, getting the appropriate tests and screenings to match up with that history, as well as taking the time to take care of yourself — getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating well.
Alyson: That's right. None of us want to be dependent on others, which is why our campaign is designed to expand women's awareness and understanding of long-term care so that they can make informed planning decisions.
You know boomer women (those born between 1946 and 1964) are nearly 40 million strong. They are empowered in different ways than their moms, but despite major progress, they still have lower salaries. And when they serve as caregivers, they often deplete their own savings while taking care of loved ones. And because we live longer than men, we are the greatest users of long-term care services.
Elinor: You know, I am continually amazed at how women caregivers consistently put off attending to their own health — we say we are "too busy" helping a loved one. And even women who are not providing care seem to have an unending list of reasons why they haven't had their mammogram, gone to the gym, or eaten better.
Alyson: That's right, and we've only dealt with health, so let's move on to the next bucket: Legal. By this we mean that you have documents that clearly state your wishes for how and where you wish to receive care. I'm talking here about advanced directives. They include things like durable powers of attorney, a living will, and medical proxy. You might think it takes a lot to create these documents, but there are simple, no-cost ways to get them into the hands of those you trust.
Elinor: Of course, you have to know what your wishes are, so it's important to think these issues through carefully. You gotta have a family conversation with your spouse, adult children, and even your social network of gal-pals or BFFs [best friends forever]. Use them all as a sounding board.
Alyson: Our third bucket is Home and Community. You'll need to examine your home and community to make sure you can stay independent for as long as possible. Women need to look at their home as well as know about available community services to ensure that their future needs can be met.
Elinor: As a caregiver, you've probably already done this assessment for your mom and haven't thought about it as relevant for you. But it is. You may have installed a grab bar in your mom's bathroom or checked to see if her community has a home-delivery meal program.
Alyson: It's interesting that one of the major triggers for long-term care awareness among boomer women comes when they are providing care to their loved one. They start to think: Who's going to take care of me like I am taking care of my mom?
When thinking about long-term care in the context of Finances, our fourth bucket, the need for long-term care planning really pops! In fact, finances are one of the major barriers to planning. Women may think it's unaffordable, or they'd just rather not think about it. Others think that Medicare will cover their expenses. Unfortunately, this is a myth.
Planning and understanding the costs of care are critical. You might have heard of long-term care (LTC) insurance. If you have questions, the campaign has developed resources to help you decide if LTC insurance is a good fit for you.
Elinor: We all know cost is a major barrier to planning, but I'd like to add two others. First, many women don't have good information on long-term care planning. They just don't understand it, and your campaign materials provide solid guidance to difficult questions. Second, the old "I'm too busy" excuse always surfaces pretty quickly. I hope that this column has changed your thinking. Ladies, you are worth it.
Alyson: When AARP committed to this campaign, we named it "Decide. Create. Share." This campaign captures what women need to do. They need to decide what their wishes are, create a plan, and then share their thoughts with other women.
Elinor: Alyson, thank you for taking time today to explore long-term care planning. My hope is that we've busted a few myths and gotten women to think carefully about where and how they want to live the rest of their lives.
So here's my advice: Soak in a bath, and if you have a mimosa in hand, take another sip and relax. Enjoy your Mother's Day, but don't put off going to www.aarp.org/decide to learn more about long-term care planning. Be strong and take the time to "Decide. Create. Share."
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