No matter the topic, knowledge and understanding give you a better chance of successfully navigating any pitfalls. Yet many of us refuse to think about the issue of care until a crisis hits, which can often mean a poorer outcome.

“It’s like buying a house for the first time, starting a new job, getting married and getting divorced all in an extremely short space of time,” says Andrew Parfery, CEO and co-founder of Care Sourcer, a company that links up those looking for care with the companies that provide it. “The care journey is extremely complicated.”

That’s one reason why we should start researching our options at an early stage, and while we’re still fit and healthy. “There will be significantly lower costs and better outcomes for you, and you will have far more control over what happens if you’re proactive and start planning for this now,” says Parfery.

What care support will you need?

After a lifetime of choosing homes, jobs and partners, none of us wants to lose control of how and where we live our lives as we grow older. Keeping fit and healthy is an important part of maintaining our independence, so diet and exercise are likely to be high up the priority list for anyone in later life. The next consideration, is understanding what can go wrong.

But, says Sam Roberts, Managing Director of Health & Care at Legal & General, part of the problem is that trying to identify what care you might need and when, is – in the absence of a crystal ball – almost impossible.

“You should design what you need based on your function at any particular time,” she says. “It could just be something as simple as a fall monitor, or you may need to install a downstairs wet room – there are so many variables.”

Certainly there’s a lot of help available. From ergonomic gardening tools to help you carry on with your hobby if you develop arthritis, to technology that can monitor your hydration levels; there’s a wide market of products to make life easier. You can find many with a simple Google search. But one of the reasons care and independence can seem so complicated, is they’re very personal – what’s right for one person may not be right for you.

“The first thing we do is understand the needs of the individual,” says Parfery. “You might not need a care service, it could be a bit of technology that will help make things easier.”

You can also request an assessment of your care needs from your local authority, which can be extended to your property. They’ll identify any minor aids and adaptations that might help, and these can often be provided and installed free of charge.

How planning ahead can help with funding care

Legal & General research has found that almost 2 million people in the UK research care every year; but the vast majority only do so at the point of need, perhaps after an accident or illness forces their hand. That’s unfortunately when many find the help they need is not available through public services, and they must fund it themselves.

“It’s worth using a care costs calculator,” says Roberts. “That will give you an idea of whether you’re eligible for local authority help.”

If you need support and assistance, regardless of whether you receive it, you may be eligible for Attendance Allowance, a state benefit that can help contribute towards the cost of any home help or personal care you may need. In certain situations, depending on the complexity of your care needs, you may also qualify for NHS funding.

If you don’t qualify for state support, your first choice for funding is likely to be through savings, which might be the quickest and easiest way of providing short-term help.

If you need to make big adaptations such as putting in a wet room, you may be able to release money from your home through a lifetime mortgage, also known as equity release; this allows you to stay in familiar surroundings, perhaps with family and friends locally on whom you can rely for extra help, such as picking up shopping or driving you to doctor’s appointments. A lifetime mortgage is a loan secured against your home that’s based on your individual needs, and might be right for you if you don’t want to make the monthly repayments that come with other loans.

“There are around 13.6 million people in the UK providing informal care – a friend, partner or child who is not being paid to provide that support,” says Parfery.

Finally, if it’s clear you’ll need long-term support within a care home, an immediate needs annuity is worth considering. This can be bought with a lump sum, and in return a regular payment is made to the care provider for as long as you live. This means you won’t have to worry about your money running out, although it may not cover increases in care home costs. If you need more information on the cost of care, take a look at our dedicated page. For more detail on care funding product options available, it’s best to talk to a specialist financial adviser.

Considering all areas of your care

Whatever your current situation, thinking about care before the point at which you need it, is important.

“I have seen so many people who are fit and healthy, but have a fall, are admitted to hospital and catch an infection or are not able to recover quickly. At that point you might be in hospital longer than you want, because having a safe home to go to is a requirement before you can be discharged,” says Parfery.

We all know how hard it can be to make decisions during stressful times, so ideally you should think about what care you might need beforehand. Legal documents such as a power of attorney can be written, to cover not just financial issues but also your wishes in every area of your life.

“You can drill right down and really design your future life today,” says Parfery. “I’m writing my care wishes for even the simple things, such as that I want to have a shower every day. That sounds simple, but it ensures these stressful decisions don’t fall on your partner or children.”

It is tough to face up to the physical changes of later life. But one thing’s for sure, the earlier you tackle the issue, the easier it will be.

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