Next Wave of Seniors Rejects Nursing Homes, Fears Burdening Family

Aging adults have many concerns as they near retirement—among them health care costs and nursing home stays—but they’re doing little to plan ahead.

In fact, soon-to-be retirees say they’d rather die than live in a nursing home and cite health care costs as one of their main concerns as they age, but few are taking the steps necessary to address those fears, according to survey findings released Wednesday.

The survey, conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of the Nationwide Retirement Institute between Sept. 23 and Oct. 1, consists of responses from 1,291 U.S. adults age 50 or older, of whom 558 identify themselves as pre-retired and having an annual household income of $150,000 or more. Nationwide is a Fortune 100 company based in Columbus, Ohio providing insurance and financial services.

Among the respondents, 69% indicate that out-of-control health care costs top their list of fears as they enter retirement, while 66% claim they would prefer to die before they would live in a nursing home. About 59% say they worry they’ll become a burden to their families, but more than half haven’t discussed these matters with loved ones or their financial advisors.

The reasons for avoiding such conversations varied among participants—20% believe it’s a personal issue, 19% say they don’t know enough about health care costs in retirement to bring them up and 10% simply argue they don’t want to think about it.

“Too many people act like if they ignore the problem, it will go away,” John Carter, president of Nationwide’s retirement plans business, said in a prepared statement. “Americans are living longer and need to adequately prepare to cover health care costs and other expenses for those years. Not discussing these issues does not mean they won’t happen.”

Respondents’ concerns extend beyond the care ahead of them, though, as many feel that retirement won’t be an option at all, according to the survey findings. More than one-third say they expect to never retire, and even 23% of those with a household income above $150,000 indicate the same. These fears can be attributed to lack of savings for the duration of retirement and not receiving enough government benefits, the survey states.

Nearly half of older adult participants with children say they would consider giving away all of their money to their kids in order to become eligible for Medicaid-funded long-term care—a phenomenon dubbed “Medicaid planning.”

“It’s shocking to find that nearly half of older Americans think of ‘Medicaid planning’ as a way to preserve their children’s inheritance,” Carter said. “The fact that so many would give all their money to their children in order to qualify for government assistance in paying for long-term care tells me health care costs are a bigger problem than we realize.”

Written by Kourtney Liepelt