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Caring for an elderly loved one in need can be a difficult task, especially when that person needs long-term care that can cost tens of thousands of dollars a year.

The emotional and financial strains on family members can be overwhelming at times, with many of them forced to make difficult decisions as they try to do what's best for their loved ones.

While New Jersey is home to a lot of long-term care options, most of them come with a hefty price tag. According to the Genworth Cost of Care Survey, the average monthly cost for a home health aide in New Jersey is $4,385. The more services you need, the more it will cost you. The survey finds that in New Jersey, the average monthly cost for an assisted living facility is $5,811, and the average monthly cost for a nursing home is $10,798.

In this Forever 39 episode, we are joined by Mary Catherine Lundquist, program coordinator at the Comprehensive Services on Aging Institute for Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders at Rutgers Health, University Behavioral Health Care, to discuss the steps that families should be taking now to make sure a plan is place to meet the needs of their aging loved ones.

For starters, families need to talk to their loved ones now, while they are still healthy and able to make decisions for themselves, instead of waiting to develop plans once health crises happens.

"You should have the talk now. No time is too early because you never know when an emergency is going to arise. It's good that we have open conversations as family members where we all talk about what our wishes are for ourselves in the event that we may need some extra assistance in our lives," Lundquist said.

A great resource that can help families come up with a plan of action is an Office of Aging. Not only does every county in New Jersey have one, but it will be able to direct families to services that their loved ones might qualify for. To connect, call 211 or 877-222-3737.

Lundquist said an Office of Aging can also help with financial resources that might be available.

"You want to see if your parents might be eligible for assistance. We know how expensive assisted living and nursing home care can be, and most people do not have the finances to pay that," Lundquist said.

Another step a family can take is to consult an elder care attorney, who should be able to draft financial plans for the love one in need of care.

And when it comes to finding the most suitable place to send Mom or Dad, Lundquist said it's important for families not to be lured in by fancy-looking places.

"I would not be fooled by a beautiful facility ... a brand new facility that has chandeliers and a baby grand piano in the lobby. Don't get fooled by that. What you really want to look at is how many staff members are there and how attentive are they to the people who are living there." Lundquist said. "

Some of the things to consider, according to Lundquist:

  • Make scheduled and unscheduled visits to facilities
  • Talk to those visiting loved ones in the facility
  • Engaged residents
  • Low staff turnover

One of the biggest struggles that many families face is deciding when the time is right to put a long-term care plan in action. Lundquist said there are many signs that families can look for that can signal that Mom or Dad are no longer able to live on their own:

  • Weight loss
  • Signs of burnt food in the kitchen
  • Difficulty with paying bills
  • Disorganized house or unable to keep up with routine repairs

And while those going through this process can certainly feel isolated, there's plenty of support available.

"It's also good to reach out and to talk to other people who are going through the same thing that you are, so going to a support group where other adult children are struggling with the same issues is a good place to get tips as well," Lundquist said.

Rutgers runs Care2Caregivers, a helpline that can connect families to support groups, assisting living facilities, nursing homes and other programs. The helpline number is 1-800-424-2494.

If you have a personal story that you would like to share about caring for an elderly loved one, email us at forever39@nj1015.com.

Also from this week's Forever 39 podcast — Our top annoyances in 2018. PLUS: Women are saying no to high heels. Click on the podcast player above to hear the entire episode. Share your thoughts on all of them below, on Twitter, on Facebook or at forever39@nj1015.com.

— Annette and Megan, Forever 39

Join us for next week's podcast when we reveal some of New Jersey's hidden gems, why we think promposals are a big don't, and how to become better friends with someone.

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