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The necessity for health care planning illustrated by new numbers

For the first time, the federal government has collected information regarding individuals who receive some level of paid long-term care. The numbers do not include aging relatives cared for by family members. The figures corroborate that the need for long-term health care planning is clear.

Massachusetts residents may be surprised to know that a staggering eight million Americans make use of long-term care services. However, this number is low when compared to the number of people cared for by individual families. The services featured in the data include five distinct types of care. Full-time care is provided by hospices, nursing homes and assisted living/residential communities. Part-time or in-home care is provided by home health agencies and day service facilities for adults.

The National Center for Health Statistics compiled the data to research trends in long-term care and assess care options for an increasingly older population. This first report includes partial information from 2011 and all of 2012. A new report is expected to be released every two years.

Across the country, nearly 58,500 long-term care providers offer paid services and are regulated by state and federal agencies. These providers employ approximately 1.5 million nursing aides and nurses. Between 30 and 50 percent of all patients, regardless of the level of care received, suffer from Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia.

These numbers may provide enough motivation for Massachusetts residents to conduct long-term health care planning. Growing older is inevitable, and preparing for care as the population ages could save families from emotional and financial issues if and when the time comes for long-term care services. Without advance planning, an aging loved one's family could struggle financially to provide adequate care for the benefit of a loved one.

Source: USA Today, More than 8 million use long-term care services in USA, Sharon Jayson, Dec. 12, 2013

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