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South Shore | Nursing & Rehabilitation

What Is Long-Term Care?

July 1, 2024

Long-term care involves a variety of services designed to meet a person’s health or personal care needs when they can no longer perform everyday activities on their own. This article provides an overview of long-term care planning, services, and costs, as well as other resources.

Who needs long-term care?

Many people will need long-term care at some point. However, it can be difficult to predict how much or what type of care a person might need.

The need for long-term care can arise suddenly, such as after a heart attack or stroke. More often, however, the need for long-term care develops gradually. People require more care as they get older and frailer or as a serious, ongoing illness or health condition gets worse.

Healthy habits can reduce the risk of many diseases and may help delay or prevent the need for long-term care. Good nutrition, regular physical activity, not smoking, and limited drinking of alcohol can help you stay healthy. So can an active social life, a safe home, and regular health care. Talk to your health care provider about your medical and family history and lifestyle. They may suggest actions you can take to improve your health.

What are the different types of long-term care services?

Long-term care involves a wide variety of support services to help people live as independently and safely as possible. It is provided in different places by different caregivers, depending on a person’s needs.

Home-based care

In many cases, long-term care is provided at home by informal caregivers, such as family members, friends, and neighbors. Most home-based care services involve personal care — help with everyday activities, also called “activities of daily living.” These activities include bathing, dressing, eating, and taking medications, as well as supervision to make sure a person is safe.

Home-based care can also be supplemented by formal caregivers who are paid for their services. These caregivers include nurses, home health care aides, therapists, and other professionals. They can help older people with many aspects of health care, including giving medications, caring for wounds, helping with medical equipment, and providing physical therapy.

Get detailed information about in-home support services, including suggestions for arranging them, information about costs, and additional resources.

Community and residential care

Some aspects of long-term care can be provided in a person’s community, such as in an adult day care center or senior center. Care in these settings may include meals, exercise, social activities, personal care, and transportation. These services may be provided at no cost or for a fee.

Long-term care can also be given in a residential facility, such as assisted living or a nursing home. Some facilities offer only housing and housekeeping, but many also provide personal care, social and recreational activities, meals, and medical services. Some facilities offer special programs for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.

Long-term care planning

The best time to think about long-term care is before you need it. Planning for the possibility of long-term care gives you and your family time to learn about services available in your community and what they cost. It also allows you to make important decisions while you are still able.

Begin by thinking about what would happen if you became seriously ill or disabled. Talk with your family, friends, and lawyer about who would provide care if you needed help for a long time and what kind of care you would want. People with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia should begin planning for long-term care as soon as possible. Read more about advance care planning.

Most people prefer to stay in their own home for as long as they can. Staying in your own home as you get older is called “aging in place.” But living at home as you age requires careful consideration and planning. There may come a time when it’s no longer safe or comfortable to live alone. Be realistic and plan to revisit the decision as your needs change over time.

Paying for long-term care

Long-term care can be expensive. How people pay for care depends on their financial situation, their eligibility for assistance programs, and the kinds of services they use. People often rely on a variety of payment sources, including:

  • Personal funds, including savings, a pension or other retirement fund, income from investments, or proceeds from the sale of a home.
  • Federal and state government programs, such as MedicareMedicaid, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Visit for more information about government programs for health care and financial assistance.
  • Private financing, including long-term care insurance, reverse mortgages, certain life insurance policies, annuities, and trusts.

Learn more about paying for long-term care.

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