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What Happens After Tomorrow? Imagining My Future


Jan-Pookie-on-her-99th-224x300This is not a topic that I ever wanted to write about. The idea that there may come a time when I can’t take care of myself has always been as far away and alien to me as, well, as old age. But willynilly of how I feel about it, every year come July 3, I move another notch up on the age ladder. I’m beginning to get an inkling that perhaps my Scarlett O’Hara act–”I’ll think of it tomorrow at Tara”–may be foolish, not to mention foolhardy. Still, I’ve never been one to do much planning ahead, since I’m really more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants girl. That’s worked so far for me, but now I’m wondering how much youth and the ability to zig or zag when needed played into my success. So I’m making myself think about it today, visualize it, in fact, to see if there’s a flight path I should be aiming for.

Best case scenario: I maintain all my marbles (yes, this is the term we use in my family) and my physical faculties. I can remain in my home with a modicum of help. Perhaps Meals on Wheels will deliver a lunch or two. Perhaps a van will take me to the doctors. Perhaps, living as I do in the suburbs, I’ll shrivel up from loneliness and no one will ever know that I’ve taken to eating cat food. For this best case scenario to work, then, I’ve got to get out of Elk Grove and back to the city where I won’t be so dependent on outsiders for aid and company. I can see myself walking to the Senior Center on Fairfax Avenue and taking a bus (as my mother often did) to see a movie at the Beverly Center. Yes, that would work for me.

Next best case scenario: Assisted Living. My role model for this is my Aunt Frieda, known to all of us as Pookie. She’s ninety-nine and still going strong, one of those New York women who always looks like she just stepped out of the pages of a fashion magazine. Pookie lives in a “Senior Residence” in a pre-War (NYC code for elegant!) building in Brooklyn where she has a lovely apartment, can cook for herself or eat in the communal dining room as she wishes. She plays poker with a group of fellow residents, and there are a multitude of other social and cultural opportunities available should she wish. This sounds to me like a summer camp for senior citizens, and as a veteran camper, I could definitely handle it. Of course, I’d have to pick the right camp. Again, I’d want the one in the city, with all the cultural advantages it offers and a fairly diverse group of fellow campers. Also, I’d want the camp where the fun people go, so it would probably be best to avoid those with strong and serious religious affiliations.

And then there are nursing homes. My mother-in-law was in one of those for several years at the end of her life. It wasn’t so bad. Not really. It didn’t smell of stale urine, and the staff seemed relatively kind and intelligent. My mother-in-law’s greatest complaint was directed at her roommate: she didn’t share well or at all and my mother-in-law, who had once been a force to be reckoned with, was now too meek to stand up for herself. When I imagine myself into a place like that, I remember the weeks I was in Intensive Care. Some coping mechanism took over and I, who on the outside had also been a force to be reckoned with, became meek as well. All of the things that seem like such indignities to the able-bodied are not when you’re the person lying in the bed. I wouldn’t let my mother lie in her own urine at the end of her life, but when it happened to me–it wasn’t bad at all. Kind of warm and cozy, actually. My sense, then, is that I could take a nursing home, simply because I think we do what we have to to endure.

However, all of these options cost money–and that seems to be the sticking point of preparing for long-term care. Who pays what and when–I’ve heard various scenarios. One friend’s father was in a nursing home at the end of his life, but before Medicare would kick in, his net worth–house and all–had to be decimated. That is the case for another friend whose mother, an Alzheimer’s patient, has been in several facilities in Los Angeles. Medicare eventually took over the payments, but my friend and her sister still contribute some $1500 per month for regular day-time aides to supplement the facility’s staff. Would long-term care insurance cover this? I don’t know. Jan, Aunt Pookie’s daughter, says that from what she’s heard from relatives of other residents, such insurance would pay nothing for Pookie, who is healthy. “She doesn’t need full-time help or assistance with her medications,” says my cousin. “People considering long-term care insurance should learn exactly what they pay for. It does not seem to be for the person who is just old, but healthy.”

That’s a valid question, as is how much such insurance would cost me. I went to Genworth’s Long-Term Care Insurance Calculator and plugged in the salient details–my state and age. Then I was asked whether I wanted a Benefit Multiplier of 3 years or 5 years. Huh? And whether I wanted a daily maximum of $100-200-300-400. Double Huh? Just for the sake of getting a ballpark figure, I said I wanted a Benefit Multiplier (whatever that is) of 3 years and a daily maximum of $100. My estimated annual premium, as of today, would be $2,760.

Is that a deal? I don’t know. Will it pay for the scenarios I imagined above? I don’t know. Perhaps I should hit the Request a Free Consultation button at the bottom of the calculator’s window. I supposed if anyone would be able to clarify the issue, it should be the people who provide the insurance. But as with all things financial, I will also do my own research, so that I know what questions to ask and what responses to question. I believe it is called Due Diligence, and it is something that can get more difficult to do as we age. Which is why, I now see, it’s better to do this research when I’m still at the top of my form , when I’m still able to do that zigging and zagging that I’ve done all my life, rather than later when I won’t be so adept.

Do you have any tales to tell that would help me? Obviously, I’m just at the beginning of my research, and I’m still looking for all the advice I can get. If you have long term care insurance, what will it cover? If you don’t, why not? Have you thought about what you’ll do when/if you get to the point of not being able to live alone? Let’s talk, share our knowledge, our hopes and fears. Hey, let’s have an old timey consciousness-raising session.

While this post was sponsored by Genworth Financial, the content and opinions are solely mine.

ABC News

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