New Canaan Advertiser Reports: "The cost of growing old: Residents learn about aging and options"
Posted on January 24, 2019
See full article in New Canaan Advertiser
by Brad Durrell, Correspondent
Prepare now, do your homework and understand the financial impact.
That was basically the message three panelists gave during a Jan. 16 forum on “Meeting Health and Personal Needs As We Age” at the New Canaan Library.
Some of the numbers offered on the cost of senior healthcare appeared to startle those in attendance.
Russ Barksdale, CEO of Waveny LifeCare Network, said people could spend $50,000 to $100,000 a year on out-of-pocket healthcare expenses once they turn 65 years old. The annual cost of full-time home health care aide is $80,000 in this area, he said, and it’s $180,000 for around-the-clock skilled nursing care.
“The number one fear of seniors is outliving your savings account,” Barksdale said.
Kathy Collins, member resources director at Staying Put in New Canaan, said the good news is people are living longer. But the bad news is many will suffer from expensive chronic diseases as they age.
People can reduce issues with disease by making good lifestyle choices such as eating well, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, proper medical care and remaining socially active, Collins said.
“It’s very important to stay engaged in some way,” Collins said, adding that everyone needs to “take personal responsibility for how we’re aging.”
Sharon Gesek, program director at the Southwestern Connecticut Agency on Aging, focused on the health care insurance choices people face as they grow older, especially with Medicare, drug prescription programs and private supplemental offerings.
While a lot of time is required to figure out what plans are best for each individual, it’s time well spent, Gesek said.
“There’s a lot of navigation,” she said.
The forum, attended by about 60 people, was co-sponsored by the New Canaan Library and Staying Put, a local nonprofit that helps seniors age in their homes and remain engaged in the community.
Today’s average lifespan is 78.7 years, compared to just 45 in the year 1900. Staying Put Executive Director Barbara Achenbaum said some experts say a baby born today could conceivably live to be 150 years old due to medical advances.
Collins said the definition of aging is changing, including “traditional constraints about what you can and can’t do.” She noted John Glenn went into space again at age 77 and President George H.W. Bush was age 90 when he last went skydiving.
Gesek went into details on Medicare programs, from parts A to D, explaining enrollment and eligibility. Medicare is the federal health insurance program covering most people age 65 and older.
“It’s ever evolving,” Gesek said of all the rules and programs, advising people to enroll in Medicare when they turn age 65 to avoid penalties.
She also talked about Medicaid, a separate federal program that assists low-income people and also, under certain circumstances, pays for nursing homes and limited at-home care.
The Agency on Aging, where Gesek works, is a private nonprofit that receives government funds to help older adults about with services and programs.
Barksdale urged people to meet with an elder care attorney to learn how to protect their assets so they might be eligible for government assistance, such as Medicaid Title 19 for nursing homes, when needed.
“This is not something you can do at the last moment,” he said, pointing out the government looks back at five years of an applicant’s income and assets.
People should visit the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services website, cms.gov, to learn about senior health care insurance programs and compare the quality of providers, including hospitals, Barksdale said.
“You’re empowered to do that,” he said.
After panelist presentations, audience members asked more than a dozen questions, including if differences in health care programs should be a factor when considering where to retire.
“You have to do a deep dive in where you want to go,” Gesek said, noting rules and costs for the programs can vary by state.
Resident Terry Spring, looking around at a crowd that appeared to be mostly in their 70s, said people in the 50s should attend so they can better plan for their senior years.
Anne Richards, who attended with her husband Phil, said she learned a lot during the session. “Everyone will need something done for them at some time in their life, so it’s interesting to see what’s available,” she said.
Staying Put’s Achenbaum said the three-part Healthy Aging series is intended “to encourage conversations among families on aging.” The next session is “Downsizing in New Canaan: What Are Your Options?” on Wednesday, Jan. 30, at 6:30 p.m.