By Lakelyn Hogan, MA
(NewsUSA) - In the COVID-19 pandemic, home has been reinforced as the center of the universe for many of us. It's evolved into our office. It's doubled as our children's classroom. It's transformed into our vacation destination. And it continues to be where we eat, sleep and unwind every day. As the safest place we can be during an ongoing global health crisis, our homes have never been more central to our lives.
For the oldest among us, this is only magnified, as eight out of every 10 COVID-19 deaths reported in the United States have been people 65 and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Statistics like these underscore how vital practices such as social distancing and sheltering in place are for older adults.
Fortunately, regardless of the pandemic, home is where most people want to be as they grow older. In fact, research conducted for Home Instead Inc., finds that 90 percent of older adults hope to age in place at home. But most can't do so without help -- 70 percent of older adults in the 65+ age group will need assistance at some point.
So how can we honor the wishes of older generations in the pandemic, keep them safe, and ensure they receive the care they need? The good news is that there are more options than ever for care for aging adults.
Outside of the home, options such as retirement villages and senior apartments can provide a great deal of independence, particularly for those who are unable to age within their home. For those with specialized care needs that require higher-acuity care, alternatives such as nursing homes and memory care facilities are worth considering. However, none of these alternatives can provide the flexibility and affordability of home care. Home care keeps people in the safety of their own homes and offers services that span the spectrum of assistance for older adults -- from transportation and companionship to medication management and around-the-clock care.
If your loved one requires specialized care -- whether rehabilitating from an injury or living with Alzheimer's disease or other dementias -- home care allows for a range of options to match your specific needs. You can work with your provider to figure out the right fit.
If you're caring for a loved one from a distance, home care can provide peace-of-mind by simply having someone visit for a few hours, a couple times a week. Families can work with their provider to determine the appropriate level of care and stay closely connected to stay on top of changing needs. During difficult financial times, a team approach to home caregiving is an especially smart choice. Family members, friends, neighbors and providers can divide responsibilities to ensure your loved one is looked after. This is very important for anyone who feels overwhelmed by caring for a relative.
Ask for help! The pandemic has never made the need for a break more apparent among family caregivers.
When considering available care choices, cost is certainly a factor that rises to the top of the list for most. Unfortunately, far too many people assume resources such as Social Security and Medicare will pick up the entire tab. Beyond private pay or self-insurance, which are the most common ways people pay for care, long-term care insurance is a great option and, for those who qualify, Medicaid or Veterans Assistance could help.
Before the pandemic, family caregivers were spending nearly $7,000 per year to care for an aging loved one by reducing savings for their own retirement or their kids' education, delaying their own health care expenses and even taking loans or early withdrawals from their retirement nest eggs. COVID-19 has only exacerbated the situation. What these people are experiencing underscores the importance of planning ahead.
But the truth is, only half of older adults have taken the time to do so. And the key to choosing the right approach for yourself -- or a family member -- is planning and discussing the alternatives before they're even needed.
Lakelyn Hogan, MA, is a gerontologist and caregiver advocate for Home Instead. In her role, Lakelyn educates professionals, families and communities on issues older adults face, and provides resources to support family caregivers and their aging loved ones. Lakelyn serves on Dreamweaver Foundation's Board of Directors as VP as well as the Board of Directors for National Alliance for Caregiving. She is also active in the Alzheimer's Association's Walk to End Alzheimer's.