What do you think of when you hear the words long-term care (LTC)? If you are like most people, the first image that may come to mind is a bedridden, elderly individual who requires constant care, along with various medical treatments and procedures. But, for most people, this is not the reality of LTC.
You see, LTC isn’t intended to cure a medical condition. Far more frequently, it involves helping a person cope with a reduced level of functioning for a temporary or indeterminate period of time. LTC includes a wide range of medical, non-medical, social, and personal care services. Depending on a person’s needs, LTC services could be provided by a skilled nurse, a home health aide, an occupational or physical therapist, a speech language pathologist, a social worker, or even a registered dietitian. While it’s true that over 60% of those in need of LTC are aged 65 or older, the remaining 37%—or 3.7 million—are 64 years of age or younger.1
Let’s look at a few potential LTC scenarios.
Suppose you develop a chronic condition with intermittent symptoms. When symptoms worsen, you could require hospitalization. But at other times, you might just need assistance with household chores, laundry, or meal preparation. Or, if you were to develop cognitive dysfunction, due to a stroke or head injury, for example, you might need assistance with money management, medication management, and transportation to and from medical appointments.
For physical impairment due to illness, injury or aging, LTC might involve assistance with daily tasks such as dressing, bathing, eating, transferring, and toileting. LTC services may be hands-on assistance, stand-by, or supervisory assistance. While LTC can be provided in an assisted living facility or nursing home, it is also commonly provided in the home of the person needing care or the home of a family friend or relative.
Sometimes, assistive devices or technology can enable a person to maintain independence or perform certain tasks without assistance. For example, installing grab bars in the bathroom may allow a person to bathe safely and independently. Or, a computerized medication reminder may enable a person to manage medications autonomously. In certain situations, assistive devices can promote independence, help maintain quality of life, and even provide respite for caregivers. Licensed health care professionals from a variety of disciplines can evaluate a person’s need for a specific assistive device or service.
Most people, regardless of their level of functioning, may prefer to live independently in their own homes for as long as possible. LTC can help you maintain independence, while also promoting safety and quality of life. If further assistance or medical care is needed at some point, LTC can help manage those needs, as well.
As you can see, LTC isn’t limited to end-of-life issues. It’s also about quality of life along the way.
1 Rogers, S., & H. Komisar. Who needs long-term care? Fact Sheet, Long-Term Care Financing Project. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2003.
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