Nearly 100 million Americans have long-term illnesses, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. A long-term illness, sometimes called a chronic illness, is a long-lasting condition that can be controlled but not cured. A growing number of this population is seniors.
Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the number of seniors with two or more chronic illnesses increased from 37.2 percent in 2000 to 45.3 percent in 2010.
According to the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists, the most common long-term illnesses affecting the elderly are:
- Adult onset diabetes
- Kidney and bladder problems
- Parkinson’s disease
- Lung disease
- Enlarged prostate
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Macular degeneration
- Cardiovascular disease
Along with the medical issues of a long-term illness come many emotional issues as well. Long-term illness may cause many fears for seniors – the fear of being a burden on family members, fear of ending up in a nursing home, fear of having inadequate financial resources, and a fear of not having a choice of how and where care is received.
It is important to address these emotional needs and help affected individuals cope with them.
Seniors may fear that the diagnosis of a long-term illness will automatically mean they have lost their independence and way of life. The illness may require that they receive outside help, like a caregiver. However, an aging person might not want to appear vulnerable and, therefore, may have trouble getting used to having outside help. On the other hand, a senior may give into the fear and become overly dependent and needy. In many situations, an elderly person’s family members have a large role in their care. Because of this, they may develop a sense of being a burden on his or her family.
A solution to this problem can be hiring a caregiver, who can provide in-home care for and help with activities of daily living – like bathing, getting dressed, and cooking a meal. Caregivers can help a senior maintain their way of life after being diagnosed with a long-term illness.
There are also technology solutions for those who want to maintain their independence. BeClose with Amada, for example, is an in-home sensor system that allows family members to monitor seniors’ activity online and alerts them when something is out of the ordinary. BeClose can help seniors maintain their independence in situations where a caregiver is unavailable, while giving family members peace of mind.
While losing independence and becoming a burden to family members is a common fear among seniors with a long-term illness, the fear of ending up in a nursing home is almost as common. According to “Aging in Place in America,” a study conducted by Clarity and The EAR Foundation, 13 percent of seniors said moving out of their home into a nursing home is their greatest fear. This fear surpassed even the fear of death (3 percent). The idea of “aging in place” is the most ideal to 89 percent of seniors. In many situations, even those with long-term illnesses can maintain their life at home with the help of a caregiver. However, there are certain cases where a nursing home may be the best option, like if the illness is very advanced. Senior Care advisors can help seniors and their families decide what the best care option for their unique situation is. In situations where a nursing home is the best option, professionals frequently work with seniors and their adult children to find the best facility for their unique needs.
Seniors may also be afraid that they have inadequate financial resources or not enough savings to deal with their long-term illness. Without proper planning, long-term care can exhaust savings and other resources very quickly. According to Care Scout, the national average cost for in-home caregivers starts around $18 per hour, and the average for a nursing home room is $200 per day, or $74,000 per year. It may help to have a trusted financial advisor, and look at the projected care costs for one’s area. If the senior has a long-term care insurance policy, consider when would be the best time to file for benefits.
Amada Senior Care can help seniors navigate financial care options. Amada’s advisors can manage long-term care insurance policies and educate seniors about resources like veterans assistance programs.
Another fear that seniors with long-term illnesses may have is not being able to choose where and how they receive care. Especially for those with illnesses like advanced Alzheimer’s, there may come a time when the senior is unable to make decisions about his or her health. One way to be prepared is to create an Advanced Healthcare Directive. This document will express the senior’s wishes about end-of-life care and accepting or refusing treatment in life-threatening situations. It also allows them to name an agent that will act and make decisions on the patient’s behalf if need be.
While the diagnosis of a long-term illness can seem devastating, it does not necessarily mean a senior has to lose a sense of independence or be fearful of what’s to come. Working with professionals like Amada Senior Care advisors to determine the best options for healthcare and financial needs can give seniors with long-term illnesses the peace of mind they need to be confident about the future.
Written by Taylor French, Amada contributor.