Anna is my mother-in-law. She was born in Latvia, a country on the Baltic Sea, 82 years ago. As a young teenager, she was separated from her family when the bridge that linked her school to the road going to her farm, was destroyed by bombs. Having no choice but to leave her family behind, she fled the oncoming armies and eventually escaped into Allied-held Germany.
There she met her future husband who would bring her over to Canada. They both worked very hard, built a house and raised two daughters. Anna was age 37 when she gave birth to her first child, the second daughter being born two years later. When her husband passed away several years ago, she continued to live in the house that they had built together and spent her time talking to her friends and tending to her huge vegetable and rose garden. I am sure you can understand why I have such great admiration and love for her: a tough, independent, yet loving lady!
Three weeks ago though, we discovered that Anna had been holding back some information from us. She was a diabetic and in fact had been so for ten years! Late onset diabetes is not uncommon in the elderly and is often treatable by diet alone. But we only found out about this when she ended up in a hospital in a near diabetic coma. Apparently she had not been looking after her diet properly, due in part no doubt to her difficulty in 'getting around' - this in itself due to the poor circulation in her legs brought on by the diabetes. She is now on dialysis and will be for the rest of her life. She is very weak and needs continuous nursing care. And now the hospital wants the 'bed space' she is occupying!
Our tough, independent, loving lady and her not-so-tough loving family are about to be initiated into the realities of the true cost of aging: Long Term Care. Ten years ago Anna might not have survived to make it to the hospital and even if she had, she might not have survived the treatment. But medical science has made great improvements in keeping the elderly alive. Most of you reading this should live through to be age 90. The advances medical science is making that will get you to that age are impressive. Unfortunately, our own financial planning is not keeping up with these changes. Our RRSP's may be 'maxed', our mutual funds balanced and our RRIF's most advantageous, but none of these will survive the onslaught of a long illness incurred at an older age. In short: retirement planning is not long term care planning. Anna lives in Ontario, a province that shares two problems with B.C. in the area of provincially funded long term care. First of all, there are very few spaces.
The hospital may actually have to keep Anna because there is just nowhere else to go: the nursing homes are filled up. Due to the high degree of care she needs, the option of taking her into our home does not exist. Secondly, there is still a cost to the 'user' : $40 per day in Ontario and in B.C., $50 per day! Where does the money come from? She has the spousal share of her husband's CPP and company pension plan - less than $800.00 per month, and then there is the house. This house, her home filled with loving memories, is now in an area zoned for heavy commercial use - so its value has dropped. So we will (most willingly) be supporting Anna - although we had not planned on it.
Many of you are going to live to age 90. Have you left it so that you will be depending on CPP, MSP and your children's incomes to get there? There is a better option: the 'Long Term Care' (LTC) plan. There are excellent LTC plans available in Canada at this date. They provide plans paying benefits for 2 years, 5 years or Lifetime and offer coverage for both Home Care and Facility Care (nursing home). Benefits can start as early as '0' days or as late as 90 days and will cover the costs of being in a facility or to having nursing care come home to you. Benefit amounts, based on a 'daily' pay method, are available from $50 up to $300 per day.
Remember that a private nursing home can now cost up to $150 per day. And a private nurse in your home can cost up to $45 per hour. In twenty years we can assume that these will cost more! The actual premium cost of the plan will vary based on benefit amount, benefit period, etc., but as a 'rule of thumb', for people under age 60 it should be in the $100 per month range. If you wait till age 70, the same plan could cost three times that amount! It's time to look at Long Term Care planning as a necessity - not a 'frill'. Sometimes being tough, independent and loving past 70 may mean paying a few additional premium dollars today.
You can survive bombs, wars and the loss of a homeland - but surviving old age is going to take just a little bit more. Here's to
Anna - and a long life! Doug McChesney BA, RHU