As the baby boomer generation ages so too rises the collective age of the nation. As the nation ages, we will run into more and more issues; issues such as how to pay for long term care and how to deal with dementia. A new age (no pun intended) of the elderly, what has been deemed the “silver tide”, is coming and we are not prepared for it.
We do Guardianships All Wrong
If a loved one cannot make decisions for themselves, for whatever reason e.g. dementia, and you do not have power of attorney, then you must seek guardianship of that person to make decisions on their behalf. The issue with guardianships is that to obtain guardianship, you must first have your loved one adjudicated incompetent. This means that you’re having the court deprive them of their liberty by declaring them unable to make decisions on their own behalf. They will remain as a “ward” of the state until such time as their competency is restored by proving to the court that they are no longer incompetent—which is not easy to do.
There are a couple glaring problems with guardianships:
- We do not understand dementia. Dementia is much like other cognitive issues in that it affects people differently. It presents itself in a unique way in each individual it touches. And, just because you suffer from dementia, does not mean you’re per se incompetent. After all, it varies in its severity.
- We do the process all wrong. When I say the ‘Court” adjudicates the individual incompetent, I mean a clerk, sitting as judge, makes this decision. A clerk is an employee of the court system, who is not required to have any formal legal or medical training, and who is given temporary judicial authority for the purpose of the hearing. Many times the government is the one bringing the petition for guardianship. These people are appointed a third party (called a guardian ad litem) to give an objective option. However, the GAL does not represent the ward and they tend to be just as much a part of the system as the government. So, we have a system whereby people are losing their rights even though we do not quite understand the extent (or lack thereof) of their illness. Oh, and by the way, there are little to no safeguards preventing this from happening.
A guardianship can be nothing more than an exercise of the blind leading the blind. Where the government rubber stamps orders to deprive people of their rights as they are moved through the system.
We Pay for Long Term Care All Wrong
As medical care gets better, the population’s longevity increases. However, just because someone lives longer does not mean they are ensured to have any quality of living. Many ailments that were previously a death sentence are no longer as serious of a threat. But they are an ailment nonetheless. Therefore, the downside of our amazing medical technology is that we are essentially keeping people alive longer and prolonging their medical needs. It’s a brutal way to look at it, but the truth tends to be brutal.
So, more people will need long term care. We know this because more people than ever are reaching age 65 or over. And if more people need long term care, then we are going to have an issue paying for it. We know this because we are experiencing the issue now and have been for some time. Long-term care can range from $5,000 to $10,000 per month. Currently, individuals have three options to pay for care: 1) They can use long-term care insurance. This is a good option, but you must qualify, and you must maintain the premiums. 2) They can pay out of pocket. This is not a good option because most people cannot afford to pay $5k to $10k per month. 3) Lastly, they can use government benefits i.e. Medicaid. This can be a great option but is very restrictive and hard to get.
We need a solution. Perhaps further regulation on long term care facilities would help to lower their exorbitant fees. Maybe a system similar to Medicaid but easier to obtain would be a cost-effective alternative. Whatever the answer it needs to be different from the status quo.
We need better solutions to these problems we are facing. The population is aging and still nothing has been done to curb the impending wave of emotional and economic turmoil, which makes you wonder: does the US care about the elderly?
Brenton S. Begley
Elder Law Attorney
McIntyre Elder Law
“We help seniors maintain their lifestyle and preserve their legacies.”
PO Box 165
Shelby, NC 28151-0165