The need for long-term care is becoming inevitable for many, yet so few make plans or even talk about it.

Despite the growing awareness that long-term care is increasingly needed among the elderly – according to the U.S. health department 70% of adults after the age of 65 will need long-term care – a new study from Genworth Financial, Inc. further confirmed the lack of preparedness surround long-term care.

“Today if you make it to 65 and more and more people – 10,000 a day – are turning 65, the odds are you’ll make it well into your 80s even your early 90s,” said Tom McInerney, president and CEO of Genworth, during a panel event in New York to discuss the results of Genworth’s long-term Care Planning and Aging Needs study. “I don’t think people have ever had to think about [spending] 30 years or so in retirement.”

While talking about future care is the first step in creating a plan, Genworth’s study found that people aren’t talking.

One out of every four adults would rather go to the dentist than talk about their long-term care or aging needs, according to the study. And fewer than 30% of adults have had a conversation about planning for their long-term care or aging needs.

“Around 70% to 80% of middle-income Americans are very ill-prepared to: One, make their retirement dollars last through retirement, but also be prepared to the extent that they are one of the unlucky ones that have a major health issue [requiring LTC],” McInerney said.

A recent Northwestern Mutual study also addressed the lack of people including long-term care needs within their retirement plans. Northwestern Mutual’s 2014 Long-Term Care Study found that about one in four (26%) of those surveyed said family members have addressed long-term care needs within their retirement plans.

Barbara Nusbaum, psychologist and money coach, discussed the psychological and emotional strain that comes with planning for long-term care.  

“We all know we’re going to get old,” she said. “We all know we’re going to age. We know our parents are aging. And we still get stymied and we don’t plan. It’s fascinating: The one thing we know we’re all going to do is age, yet we don’t plan for it.”

Emotions tend to get in the way of discussions, Nusbaum believes. The study also found there are more negative emotions attached to discussing one’s long-term care needs than positive. Genworth found that more than 60% of adults have a negative emotion – such as feelings of anxiety and fear, sadness and depression, or confusion and overwhelmed – associated with discussing future LTC or aging needs.

“Think about your parents or grandparents or even yourself. If you’re older or you get ill, and who wants to think about this?” she said. “[Does] anybody want to think about yourself being frail or having Alzheimer’s? That’s why we don’t plan. Because we just shut down. It’s overwhelming.”

And when there’s no planning, Nusbaum said, this is often followed with “family crisis, family conflict, a whole bunch of anxiety and upset.”

It’s often around this time – as Kelly Greene, head of retirement content strategy at BlackRock and previous Wall Street Journal retirement reporter, pointed out – when people must deal hands-on with the long-term care of someone else that triggers their own long-term care planning.

“A lot of times, the key is when you do become an adult-child caregiver taking care of your parents that that is what kicks you into gear to do your own long-term caregiving to honor your own children,” she said.

The study results point out, though, that one can’t assume family or loved ones will be able and ready to help in the case long-term care is needed. If an unexpected long-term care event were to happen tomorrow to a spouse or loved one, the study found that about 20% of adults wouldn’t be able or willing to provide assistance.

This is why planning and conversations with family about their plans are critical.

Once people were “aware and given the knowledge of their likely probability of having future long-term care needs” they are more motivated to take action to plan, according to Genworth’s study.

Of the study participants, 57% said they were motivated to make long-term care plans after being told that 70% of adults after the age of 65 will need long-term care. Even more females were motivated after being told this statement, 64% of women compared to 50% of men.

Knowing this statement also significantly motivated younger adults to take action or plan for their LTC needs. According to the study, 71% of those 39 and under replied ‘yes’ when asked if this statement motivated them to take action to plan; compared to 57% of those 40-59 and 41% of those aged 60 or older.

Genworth’s study is based on an online survey conducted October 6-8, 2014, with a demographically representative sample of 1,203 U.S. adults ages 18 and older.

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