What Is Long-Term Care?
Long-term care involves a variety of services designed to meet a person's health or personal care needs during a short or long period of time. These services help people live as independently and safely as possible when they can no longer perform everyday activities on their own.
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Most Care Provided at Home
Long-term care is provided in different places by different caregivers, depending on a person's needs. Most long-term care is provided at home by unpaid family members and friends. Care can also be provided by paid caregivers, usually at home, but also in a facility such as a nursing home.
The most common type of long-term care is personal care -- help with everyday activities, also called "activities of daily living." These activities include bathing, dressing, grooming, using the toilet, eating, and moving around -- for example, getting out of bed and into a chair.
Long-term care also includes community services such as meals, adult day care, and transportation services. These services may be provided free or for a fee.
Health Drives the Need for Care
People often need long-term care when they have a serious, ongoing health condition or disability. The need for long-term care can arise suddenly, such as after a heart attack or stroke. Most often, however, it develops gradually, as people get older and frailer or as an illness or disability gets worse.
How Long Does Care Last?
Long-term care can last a short time or a long time. Short-term care lasts several weeks or a few months while someone is recovering from a sudden illness or injury. For example, a person may get short-term rehabilitation therapy at a nursing facility after hip surgery, then go home.
Long-term care can be ongoing, as with someone who is severely disabled from a stroke or who has Alzheimer's disease. Many people can remain at home if they have help from family and friends or paid services. But some people move permanently to a nursing home or other type of facility if their needs can no longer be met at home.
About 70 percent of people over age 65 need some type of long-term care during their lifetime. More than 40 percent need care in a nursing home for some period of time.
Who Will Need Long-Term Care?
It is difficult to predict how much or what type of long-term care a person might need. Several things increase the risk of needing long-term care.
- Age -- The risk generally increases as people get older.
- Gender -- Women are at higher risk than men, primarily because they often live longer.
- Marital status -- Single people are more likely than married people to need care from a paid provider.
- Lifestyle -- Poor diet and exercise habits can increase a person's risk.
- Health and family history -- These factors also affect risk.