What is long-term care?

This is the range of care you receive when you find you need help performing certain activities. While medical services are an important part of this care, there are also many personal care needs that can be provided.

These may be called activities of daily living (ADLs), and include:

  • Bathing and dressing
  • Assistance using the toilet
  • Help moving to or from a bed or chair
  • Incontinence care
  • Eating

Additionally, you can receive help with everyday tasks that may be called instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs), and include:

  • Housework
  • Managing money
  • Taking medication
  • Preparing and cleaning up after meals
  • Shopping for groceries or clothes
  • Operating the telephone or other communication devices
  • Caring for pets
  • Responding to emergency alerts such as fire alarms

Who needs long-term care?

Many people find as they age they need assistance performing certain tasks, and there is no universal guidebook determining who will need this help at what age. Still, this need often does increase with age, and 70% of people over 65 will use long-term care. There are certain attributes that make it more likely you will need care, such as a disability, health status, and living arrangements, but nature does not discriminate. Even young people, who might think themselves invincible may get into a serious accident and require care.

How much care will you need?

Several factors will determine how long you are likely to need long-term care, including your gender. On average, women will need 3.7 years of care, while men will need 2.2 years of care. This is not because men take care of themselves better, or are luckier, and as a result need less assistance. Quite the opposite, this is due to women typically living longer (on average five years longer). As people tend to prefer staying in their homes as they age you are likely to use long-term care in your home longer than at a facility, if you end up going to one. 65% will need some care in their homes for at least 2 years, while 37% will need some care in a facility for 1 year.

Who will provide care?

When many people think of long-term care they picture a nurse or home care aide providing the care, but there are other caregivers too. It is common for unpaid caregivers to offer assistance, and in some cases be the primary caregiver. This usually involves preparing meals, and transportation, but informal caregivers may also cover medical treatments. Friends and family provide an estimated 70-80 percent of total home care. While giving this gift of care is often very rewarding for the informal caregiver, there are concerns regarding the pressure placed on them. A study in the American Journal of Nursing indicated that informal caregivers could experience stress, depression, and poor health while in this arrangement.

Home care agencies are available to offer you personalized care that ensures all your needs are covered. Service availability ranges from part-time and temporary care to full-time and live-in care. 

Where can you receive care?

You are able to receive care at home from home care agencies that provide services customized to your needs. There may also be adult day services in your area that you can take advantage of. These occur at centers where you engage in various activities and receive assistance during the day, and then you return to your home. Long-term care facilities such as nursing homes also help with care that you need. Assisted living, board and care homes, and continuing care retirement communities are also available for those with less serious needs.