By Carol Levine for Next Avenue
There are eight myths about aging and long-term care, some based on a kernel of truth, that are deeply entrenched in American society. Some are relatively harmless, but others can lead to serious misunderstandings.
1. Serious Memory Lapses Are Normal in Older Adults
The myth that memory loss is naturally associated with aging is deeply ingrained in societal attitudes toward older adults. Sometimes the link is made in a condescending way, and sometimes even as a joke at the older person’s expense. But these so-called senior moments are also experienced by younger people.
Although some physiological changes explain the tendency of older people to experience temporary and occasional memory lapses, serious memory lapses are not normal.
Some problems typically associated with dementia may be due to other causes. For instance, difficulty reading, judging distance and determining color may be due to cataracts or other vision problems. Medications can cause delirium, which is a temporary condition that may be confused with dementia.
Bottom line: Not everyone who grows older loses his memory and not every incident of memory loss is a sign of dementia. However, regular and problematic memory loss is not normal and should prompt a checkup.
2. Older People Fall: Not Much You Can Do About It
Falls are the primary cause of injury among older adults and often lead to serious consequences, including death. But the belief is prevalent that falls are bound to happen and are not that big a deal.
Doing strength and balance exercises to build flexibility and ordinary walking are important in preventing falls. Reasonably simple home modifications, such as removing throw rugs and improving lighting, can prevent falls. Other measures include having vision checks and using mobility aids after being trained by a physical therapist.
Bottom line: Falls are a serious risk to health and function, not a normal part of aging.
3. Antibiotics Are the Best Drugs for Older Adults With Coughs and Colds
Antibiotics have saved the lives of many people with serious infections. But over time they have been prescribed so freely by doctors that they have created a new set of medical problems. The infectious organisms the antibiotics are designed to kill have adapted to them, making the drugs less effective.
That’s why doctors are now urging caution to limit the use of antibiotics. An estimated half of prescriptions in outpatient settings such as doctors’ offices for respiratory conditions are unnecessary. These illnesses are usually caused by a virus. Antibiotics don’t work against viral illnesses.
Bottom line: For upper respiratory infections, such as sore throats, ear infections and colds, get plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids, use saline nasal spray or drops and take acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen to relieve pain or fever.
4. Americans Dump Their Older Relatives in Nursing Homes
Actually, about 4.5 percent of the U.S. population over 65 are residents of nursing homes. Also, nursing homes now operate at about 85 percent capacity and very few new ones are being built. The percentage of older adults in nursing homes has been steadily declining.
Bottom line: Believing that Americans abandon their older relatives fits into a worldview that fears changing social structures and family relationships. This myth demeans nursing-home residents by portraying them as unloved and unwanted and their family members by suggesting they’re selfish and uncaring.
5. Medicare Pays for All Long-Term Care
This myth is more of a want than a criticism. Nonmedical care is mostly not covered by Medicare, even when they are as essential to the person’s survival as drugs and doctor visits.
Bottom line: This myth is quickly dispelled when home care agencies, assisted-living facilities or other providers refuse to provide services not covered by Medicare unless the person or family pays.
6. Hospice Is Just a Place Where People Go to Die
This myth remains a barrier for physician referrals and patients’ acceptance of hospice as an alternative approach to a hospital. Hospice is often seen as giving up and abandonment. Other myths around hospice include the idea that your regular physician can’t be involved and that active treatments must be discontinued.
In fact, most hospice care is given in the place the person calls home, whether that’s a residence, an assisted-living facility or a nursing home. There are some in-patient hospices as well. And hospice is a philosophy of care, not a specific course of treatment, that emphasizes the whole person, quality of life and relief of symptoms. Under the Medicare hospice benefit, individuals can receive care for up to six months, and sometimes even longer.
Bottom line: Studies have shown that people enrolled in hospice live longer, with a better quality of life, than those who choose more aggressive options.
7. Millionaires Take Advantage of Medicaid
You’ve heard this myth many times: A millionaire can legally transfer all his or her assets and after a five-year look-back period become eligible for Medicaid nursing-home care at taxpayer expense.
Actually, the rules for transferring assets are rigorously applied in Medicaid applications and most people who eventually become eligible for Medicaid have exhausted all their resources.
Bottom line: Most people look on Medicaid as a last resort. It is a safety net and not a velvet cushion.
8. Long-Term Care Insurance Covers All Your Needs
Sometimes it can, but this type of policy is costly and the amount you have contributed may not justify the benefits you’ll receive. It is more realistic to expect that a long-term care insurance policy will cover about 60 to 70 percent of expenses.
Bottom line: Long-term care insurance can be a valuable asset, but it has limitations.
Part of the Political Issues and Policies Special Report
(Excerpted with permission of the publisher, Wiley, from Navigating Your Later Years for Dummies
by Carol Levine and AARP. Copyright © 2018 by AARP. All rights reserved. Available wherever books and eBooks are sold.)