Most long-term care services are provided by unpaid family members and friends, according to the National Institute on Aging. (iStock/iStock)
Columnist

We often talk about the significant cost of long-term care, but there’s something else to consider.

Live long enough — many of us will see our 90s — and you’re likely to need help with basic activities such as eating, dressing and bathing.

The cost of this care could decimate your retirement savings. The annual median cost of a stay in a private nursing home room is $100,375, according to a recent Genworth Financial report. A home health aide could run $50,336 a year.

But most long-term care services are provided by unpaid family members and friends, according to the National Institute on Aging.

My question to you: Are you equipped emotionally to accept the caregiving you may need?

In September, I tripped down some stairs in my home and broke my right ankle in two places. For a few weeks, I couldn't put any weight on my foot. Walking on crutches was so painful that I had to use a wheelchair.

Even going to the bathroom was difficult. (Why are toilet seats so low?) It was humiliating and humbling. Within the first few days after my accident, I fell again because I refused to ask for help to navigate to the toilet.

I wasn't at all prepared for how vulnerable I would feel because I had to rely so heavily on others.

In a two-part column, I want to address caregiving from the perspective of why your loved one may not be so receptive to your caregiving. Then I’d like to talk about concerns I’ve heard from caregivers and how those of us with extremely independent natures have to evolve for family and friends to better assist us.

Let me start with this: I hate asking for help.

I will run myself ragged assisting others, but if I need some assistance, no sir, I’ll try to figure out how to do it on my own.

I loathe putting people out. But more than that, I don’t want friends or relatives to do anything for me if they are going to resent it. If you hesitate for even a second when I do manage to ask for help, I will quickly say, “That’s okay, I got this.”

It's all about my backstory. When you are abandoned, as I was by my parents, you learn quickly to rely on yourself. My mother tried to be there, but she just wasn't good at living up to her many promises to help with our care after my grandmother took in my four siblings and me. Her behavior cemented my reluctance to rely on folks.

After I had my first child, my mother insisted that she come help me with my newborn. I had a very difficult pregnancy and required a Caesarean section. It was hard for me to lift the baby to breast-feed her. Just one day into my mother's visit, I woke up from a nap to find that she had left, without any explanation, to return to her home in another city. I had to call a nearby friend to come help me with the baby until my husband could get home from his job.

I’m sharing all of this because you might be frustrated that your parent or elderly relative isn’t amenable to your caregiving. They won’t allow you to hire help. They won’t tell you what they need. They refuse to move in with you — or even closer — so that you can better provide care. They look unhappy rather than grateful for your support.

Having enough money won't fix your frustration. Had it not been for my ankle injury, I was headed toward being that strong-willed, fiercely independent parent unwilling to see that I couldn't properly care for myself any longer. I might have put my safety and well-being in jeopardy.

I wasn't prepared for caregiving until there was a crisis.

My recent fall highlighted an issue I needed to address. I talked to my therapist and she helped me see that everyone isn't my mother. Yes, I may lose some independence in a caregiving situation, but accepting assistance can avoid more problems later. My stubbornness could cost more in caregiving expenses if a fall results in hospitalization or a stay in a nursing home or assisted-living facility.

She also said something that I hadn't considered. It's not just about me. Pointing out my giving nature, she asked why would I deny my husband and children that same joy of serving?

The long-term care crisis isn't just about the cost. It's also the emotional strain being put on many caregivers.

Don’t make their job harder by refusing to see your physical limitations. It’s okay to ask for help.

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