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Few plan despite growing need for long-term care Posted: November 24th, 2013

By Beth Orenstein

Beth Orenstein is a freelance writer from Northampton, Pa. A graduate of Tufts University, she covers health topics.

Americans are living longer and their need for long-term care is real. Yet despite the growing need, few people are planning for their or their loved ones' long-term care, according to a recent survey by the life insurance company Northwestern Mutual in Milwaukee.

The online survey found that two in five Americans (41 percent) either are unsure of how they will handle long-term care or do not plan to address their potential need for it.

Misconceptions abound

The survey also found that most Americans underestimate their risk of needing long-term care and misunderstand how the costs would be covered.

The survey found that:

  • 43 percent of U.S. adults believe their long-term care costs will be covered by Medicaid or Medicare, health insurance or disability insurance, which is rarely the case.
  • Less than a third (31 percent) of non-caregivers expect that they will need to provide support for a loved one to stay in his or her own home, yet 42 percent of those who are or have been caregivers say they provide patients with the ability to stay in their homes.
  • 25 percent of non-caregivers expect the need for long-term care to affect the time they have with family and friends while 34 percent of those who have caregiving experience say that it does.

Men and women have different outlooks

In the survey, differences also emerged between men and women over caregiving.

  • Men are four times more likely than women to cover the long-term care expenses from their own income (26 percent for men versus 6 percent for women).
  • Men also are more than twice as likely as women to pay expenses with their own credit cards (14 percent for men versus 6 percent for women.)
  • Women are more likely to be unsure of how they will handle their own long-term care needs than men (30 percent versus 25 percent). However, women are more likely than men to anticipate changes to their lifestyle and finances as a result of someone needing long-term care.

Nearly a fourth of those surveyed without caregiving experience (23 percent) say they are not sure what the implications of having to provide long-term care will be on their finances, lifestyle or career.

Caregiving has challenges

The survey also identified the top challenges of providing long-term care to loved ones:

  • Increased levels of stress
  • Physically draining
  • Having less time to spend with family and friends

Steve Sperka, Northwestern Mutual's vice president of long-term care, said in a press release that planning ahead and putting solutions in place for potential care needs "gives families options and helps protect retirement nest eggs."

The survey was conducted online within the U.S. by Harris Interactive for Northwestern Mutual in early October. More than 2,000 adults age 18 and older, of whom 344 were identified as caregivers, responded.