Most of us will enter retirement with a pretty good understanding of our current health and what it takes to manage it. But, as time goes on, everyone’s health changes and we gradually begin to spend more on our medical, physical and personal care needs.

Typically, we move through 5 stages of care as we age. The progression through these stages is different for everyone but, in time, your health needs and costs will grow.  For many of us this means we’ll eventually become dependent on a friend, family member or professional caregiver for help.

Whatever the care, the funding is your responsibility – long-term care services are not part of the Canada Health Act, and government-subsidized care is very limited.

As Canadians, understanding these stages is particularly important because we're living longer than ever before. As you build your retirement income plan, it's important to consider both lifestyle and life stage choices.

The 5 stages of care: 

In stage 1, your independence is still intact. You are self-sufficient and able to manage chronic health problems and disabilities without the help of others. There's no immediate impact on your family.

In stage 2, independence quickly turns to interdependence. Some health problems begin interfering with your daily living, making some tasks painful or more difficult. Family members begin helping out more with cooking, house cleaning, shopping and banking, but formal care is not yet in place. Families may begin considering seniors' residences designed for independent living, which feature 24-hour security, suites, meal plans, cleaning services and laundry.

In stage 3, you're starting to become more dependent on others for practical chores like meal preparation, cleaning, shopping and transportation. You may also need some limited direct help or stand-by assistance with personal care items such as dressing, bathing. There are a variety of options including live-in and live-out personal support workers providing 1-on-1 care. Assisted living facilities or retirement homes also become options if personal care and social activities are desired.

In stage 4, you're dependent on others and while home care may still be an option, the spiral of crisis management has begun. Your health and personal care needs can quickly outstrip your family’s capacity to help. And formal in-home care may be insufficient or too expensive to be a viable solution.

In stage 5, your extensive care needs can only be adequately met in a long-term care facility. Skilled nursing and extensive personal care can allow you to continue to live with dignity and enable your family to continue providing emotional and social support, while still attending to their own responsibilities.

A Sun Life Financial advisor can help you clearly understand long-term care issues, costs and coverage available in your area. Together, you can customize a plan that will ensure your future is protected. For more information, contact your advisor directly or find an advisor.

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