Aging has its side effects, as many of us begrudgingly admit.  Our bodies and minds inevitably change as we approach our golden years. Illnesses, disabilities, and other conditions may speed up the changes in certain individuals.

While many seniors continue to live independently well into their golden years, some require long-term care. The decision to move a loved one into a long-term care facility can be a difficult one. In addition to the emotional effects of such a decision, families must deal with the financial repercussions.

Long-term care services are costly, and most general healthcare insurance plans do not cover long-term care. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that an assisted living facility may cost between $4,000 and $5,000 per month for one bedroom.  Nursing home/skilled care may cost between $9,000 and $10,000 per month. Seniors or families who have enough income and savings may be able to pay for long-term care services without other assistance. But those who cannot afford to do so might need to use different programs or resources to pay for long-term care.

* Long-term care insurance: According to WebMD, commercial insurers offer private policies referred to as long-term care insurance. These policies often cover services such as care at home, adult daycare, assisted living facilities, and nursing homes. However, these plans vary widely, and the cost of care and eligibility requirements may change as a person ages, so it’s best to purchase this insurance while younger and relatively healthy.

* Government assistance: Government health programs may pay for a portion of certain care but not all the services offered by long-term care facilities.  In the United States, Medicare is the federal health insurance program for people age 65 and older and for some people younger than 65 who are disabled. Medicare generally does not pay for long-term help with daily activities such as dressing, eating, bathing, and toileting. Medicare pays for limited skilled nursing home care after a hospital stay but generally not for assisted living facilities.

* Medicaid is another option that pays for health services and long-term care for low-income people of any age. Medicaid is typically available only after the depletion of most personal assets. Even with Medicaid, a resident of a long-term care facility may need to pay a portion of the care out of pocket. What’s more, as part of the application for Medicaid, a required “look back” at assets is completed to deter gifting away assets to qualify.  Though sheltering assets from a nursing home may sound like a good idea, doing so may limit a loved one’s options for care if, or when, they need it.

Paying for long-term care requires planning well in advance of when such services may be needed.  And even then, it’s a difficult process for everyone involved.