John O'Connor illustration
McKnight’s Editorial Director John O’Connor
John O'Connor
John O’Connor

Even though Ben Franklin uttered the words more than two centuries ago, they still ring true today: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

I was reminded of his gentle warning while reading about the AARP’s latest “Long-Term Care Readiness” survey. The retiree organization recently queried more than 1,000 adults age 50 or older to get a better sense of attitudes and behaviors related to long-term care planning.

And what did the survey takers discover? Far too little in the way of preparation for old age is actually taking place.

Consider, less than a third of the respondents (28%) have given much thought to how they will live independently should a need for assistance arise. That’s right, 28%. It’s a safe bet the percent of people in this crowd planning their next vacation is considerably higher.

And it’s not like those who are 50 or older are unaware bad things might happen later in life. In fact, more than two-in-three (68%) believe they will need help with their daily activities at some point. For those who have reached age 65, the number spikes to 75%.

Put another way: they know problems ahead are very likely, but they just can’t make preparation a priority. Talk about a disconnect.

If I’m running a senior living organization, these findings scare the heck out of me. Because what they strongly suggest is that more and more senior living services will need be paid for by states and the federal government going forward. Many potential prospects in the suddenly popular middle market may not have the means to pay their own way.

Now if the idea of being a publicly subsidized enterprise suits you, then, well, there’s not much to worry about. But before you make peace with that outcome, I suggest you have a conversation with a nearby skilled care operator or two. Specifically, ask about the regulatory hoops they must jump through. And while you’re at it, ask how generous the payments are.

As frightening as the AARP survey results are, they might reveal an opportunity. Admittedly, it’s an opportunity that will require no small amount of investment and effort. I’m talking about a campaign to get people to actually prepare for the decline old age will surely bring.

But be warned, your work is cut out for you. Look at what happened in Washington state. There, a modest plan to set aside some funds from paychecks for long-term care has met a hornet’s nest of opposition. And to be frank, that’s a very limited program.

So it’s probably safe to say the fail-to-plan crowd is pretty dug in. Which is very unfortunate.

Their eat, drink and be merry mentality may be OK for a night of celebration. But it’s no way to prep for the challenges of old age. As many will discover, once the party ends.

John O’Connor is editorial director of McKnight’s Senior Living and its sister media brands, McKnight’s Long-Term Care News, which focuses on skilled nursing, and McKnight’s Home Care. Read more of his columns here.