Although few of us like to think about it, nearly everyone reaches a point in their lives when they need some kind of long-term medical care. Be it from injury, illness or simply the effects of old age, about nine million Americans are expected to enter into long-term care this year alone.

Entering long-term care does not just mean moving into a nursing home. These days, a number of options are available, including in-home care, day programs, assisted living communities and full-care nursing homes. Which option you choose depends a lot on your medical condition and individual needs. Home care is great for individuals who need regular medical attention but want to retain a measure of independence and privacy, while day programs are better suited to individuals looking to meet new people and try new activities. Assisted living communities can provide assistance with many activities of daily living, but nursing homes are a better fit for people who are recovering from illness or surgery or who cannot care for themselves.

Choosing a Long-Term Care Facility

Regardless of which option you choose, it is important to do your research. Selecting a long-term care facility well before you need it will ensure that you are making a choice because it is the right fit, not because you are pressed for time.

The most common factors in choosing a long-term facility are quality and scope of care and affordability. However, it is also important to choose a community that feels like a “good fit” for your personality. After all, this will be your home – at least for a while.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services conducts annual inspections of long-term care facilities and ranks homes on a scale of one to five stars. It is also a good idea to contact the local Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been filed against the establishment

Paying for Long-Term Care

Long-term care is not cheap. However, good planning can make it more affordable than it otherwise would be.

Generally, long-term care is an out-of-pocket expense. Some people choose to purchase long-term care insurance, but the premiums tend to be expensive and coverage is sometimes spotty. Others choose to use a “reverse mortgage,” which converts home equity into cash, or sell a life insurance policy. Medicaid is available only after the patient’s assets have been drawn down.

Whichever option you choose, be sure to discuss your plan with an elder law attorney before you need care. An attorney can help you work out a financial plan and can ensure your wishes are protected in the event that you become incapacitated.