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The costs of taking care of an elderly relative

Speaking to an aging parent about finances can be difficult.

Jeremy Hobson: So the good news is: we're living longer these days. The bad news is: the older we are, the more expensive we tend to be -- which brings us to today's Money Matters segment. We're going to focus on the financial and non-financial decisions that families face when caring for an elderly relative.

Joining us now to discuss is Marketplace's Adriene Hill. Good morning.

Adriene Hill: Good morning.

Hobson: Well Adriene, so many people face this problem. What are you supposed to do when you have an elderly relative who is having trouble taking care of himself or herself, but they don't want to make that move into an assisted living facility?

Hill: Basically start talking about it, and keep talking about it. I asked psychologist Dr. Barry Jacobs about this, and this is what he told me.

Barry Jacobs: This is not a conversation that takes place once; it's a conversation that takes place multiple times, sometimes over months and years. Unfortunately, with some families, the move doesn't occur until it absolutely has to -- in other words, some medical event has had to have happened.

The idea is to discuss really early on what kind of care and life and lifestyle your relative might want, and how best to get there. You've also got to start talking about or at least thinking about money at this point, because these things are expensive.

Hobson: How expensive are we talking?

Hill: It depends on the kind of care you need and where you live. I asked an elder care attorney here in Southern California named John Lansing: How much would be ideal to have set aside, just to make sure all those costs were covered?

John Lansing: Half a million dollars. If you figure that the cost of care for a nursing home is at least $100,000 a year, then a half-million dollars is a conservative estimate.

Hobson: A conservative estimate. Well how are people supposed to afford a half a million dollars? Obviously that's not the kind of money everybody's got lying around.

Hill: It's not, and a lot of people don't, which is why these numbers of unpaid elder care providers are as high as they are. Now people who have the savings to do this or family members with income to pay usually wind up paying for long-term care on their own. There are also long-term care insurance policies out there, and there are government programs that can help: Medicaid can step in if you exhaust your savings; Medicare can also assist if you need medical help, but it doesn't cover things like assisted living facilities.

Hobson: Marketplace's Adriene Hill, who'll be hosting our consumer finance show Marketplace Money this weekend. Thanks a lot, Adriene.

Hill: Thanks Jeremy.

About the author

Adriene Hill is the senior multimedia reporter for LearningCurve.

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