What is 'Elder Care'

Elder care encompasses any services required to assist senior citizens in living as independently as possible. Examples range from basic help with transportation to complex medical care.


Elder care covers a broad set of services provided by a range of individuals or organizations. In general, it covers any assistance an aging individual needs in order to overcome challenges to normal daily activities. Caregivers who assist with these activities may range from family members to medical specialists and may or may not receive payment for the care provided. Those in need of elder care may receive it in their own home or in a more formal institutional setting, such as an assisted living facility, a memory-care facility or a full-service nursing home.

Much of the variability in elder care services stems from the different needs required by each aging individual’s situation. Those with chronic or debilitating conditions may need significantly more attention or hands-on care than those with minor physical issues. Memory problems often play a role in establishing both a need for care and the level of care required for an individual. For example, a person who forgets to take medications on time may only need a bit of help to ensure they take the right pills at the right dosages each day, while an individual who might put a pot of soup on the stove and forget about it for hours at a time may require more consistent attention.

Paying for Elder Care

Because elder care covers such a broad territory, insurance policies rarely cover all of its elements. In the U.S., government programs outside of Medicaid or long-term care insurance rarely cover the cost of custodial care, which encompasses non-medical care provided to assist in basic daily activities such as bathing or eating. Most states require seniors to deplete their savings to a certain level before Medicaid will cover custodial care provided in a facility offering nursing home-level care. To make things more confusing, different states define levels of care in different ways, so requirements vary from state to state.

Elder care can be costly, so it’s wise for families to plan ahead for the day when it might be needed. Fortunately, there are public and private sources of help. The Eldercare Locator at eldercare.acl.gov, sponsored by the U.S. Administration on Aging, offers information about agencies and other resources available in a given region, making it a useful starting point for caregivers seeking assistance.

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