How do you talk to an aging parent about long-term care?

long term

Actor and former Brat Pack member Rob Lowe was known for a long time for attempting to live up – or would that be down – to the titles of some of his late 80’s and early 90’s movies, such as Illegally Yours and Bad Influence. However, the former West Wing cast member found redemption by going back to his ABC Afterschool Special roots and is now a noted philanthropist who has helped raise millions for breast cancer awareness and research. Though he had a relapse with a certain DirecTV ad, he has made up for it with a series of educational videos on having family conversations concerning long-term care, featuring erstwhile Mrs. Terminator Maria Shriver.

Lowe’s father was diagnosed with lymphoma at age 50 – the actor’s current age. Later on, when his mother also fell ill, his financial situation and career allowed him and his brothers to invest the time and resources to take care of her, something which he recognizes is not an alternative for most people. “Many families don't have this kind of flexibility,” he wrote in an op-ed piece on “The time and cost of caring for a loved one can be both rewarding beyond measure and financially and emotionally debilitating. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 70% of those who reach 65 years old will need long-term care of some kind. The time to plan is now, and planning begins with family discussions about what many of us will need as we age.”

Even with the means available to him, Lowe admitted to Jack Tatar on that “the reason that I'm involved is that I got blindsided by not having been prepared for a parent who needed long-term care.” In order to help others be ready to make the most of the opportunities to talk about later-life issues, Lowe launched the Let’s Talk tour in concert with Genworth to teach people about the benefits of implementing long-term care plans. The actor found it interesting that, according to Genworth research, “our parents want to have the talk,” but “what prevents them from having (it) is fear of seeming like a burden, and what prevents the younger generation from having it is fear of bringing up the subject, which is needless because our parents want to have this talk.”

Lowe also hopes to dispel certain misconceptions about long-term care, for example that it equals end-of-life care. “Millions of older adults rely on (long-term care) for help with day-to-day activities -- everything from getting dressed in the morning to cleaning the house to running the most basic errands. The majority of that care occurs in the home, and who doesn't want to say [sic] in their home?” Another common mistaken belief is that Medicare or Obamacare cover long-term care. Not only they do not – nor do most health insurance policies – but it can be pretty costly (up to $87,000 a year for nursing home care). “Even when friends or family provide ‘unpaid’ care, they often spend their own money and give up their personal time and even jobs to do so,” Lowe wrote. “As an alternative to paying out of pocket, long-term care insurance reimburses you for some of the cost of that care.”

This is not an easy conversation to have, but for Lowe making up your mind to have it is more important than the how or the when. “There is no perfect time,” he said. “One of the downfalls is you wait for the perfect time and, inevitably, it never comes.” Lowe added that having ‘the talk’ is an ongoing process as opposed to a single specific moment. “That only happens in movies and TV shows,” he said. And he should know.