Marion SomersSometimes, you have to take matters into your own hands.

So at 71, elder advocate Marion Somers, Ph.D., is hitting the road for the fourth year in a row, crisscrossing the country in a souped up 1967 Greyhound bus to spread her message: "This country is going to be hit with a geriatric tsunami and we are not prepared."

With more than 8,000 Baby Boomers turning 60 each day, she's no Chicken Little. At least 70% of people over age 65 will require long-term care services at some point. "People think the government will rescue them," says Somers, author of Elder Care Made Easier: Doctor Marion's 10 Steps to Help You Care for an Aging Loved One. She rattles off the numbers -- with the average cost of a room in a nursing home more than $80,000 a year, home care aides averaging $21 an hour, and people typically retiring with some $40,000 in savings, that's a miscalculation of epic proportions. Simply put, the health care coverage you have is not going to be enough.

"I've seen what happens when families are not prepared," says Somers, who has over 40 years experience as a geriatric care manager and elder care expert. "This trip is about waking people up. All it takes is for one incident to change everything for a family," she says. "People don't realize until it's too late what Medicare is not going to cover."

So on June 27 she left New York City on a nearly 10,000 mile tour, sponsored by LifeSecure, MedAmerica, One Reverse Mortgage, 3in4 Association Advisory Board, and others. Somers' stops include New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, San Francisco, and as many others as she can fit in before the road trip ends Aug. 26 in Los Angeles.

She has been meeting with caregivers, conducting seminars, and talking with local legislators and others to discuss the importance of long-term care planning and sharing her wisdom.

It's after her seminars are finished, though, that she knows she's reaching people. That's when those who were too shy to ask questions during the public forums come up to her for advice. "Just this morning," says Somers, "someone came over to me after my lecture and told me that she didn't really understand how reverse mortgages work, but how it now seems like a viable option, instead of having her parents move in with them, which her husband wouldn't have put up with for too long." Somers espouses the benefits of reverse mortgages, as well as the urgency of getting long-term care insurance -- the younger the better, as it's far less expensive to buy in your 40s than in your 60s and older.

She simplifies her message with the acronym C.A.R.E.: Attacking the Problem from All Angles

Though she's spent the last 40 years helping seniors and their families, her affection for the elderly goes back to when she was 9 years old. Somers grew up in a New York City tenement and was so poor that in winter, she would look for cardboard or linoleum to serve as makeshift soles for her shoes. Most of the people in her building were elderly, many without families. Somers would check in on them and shop for groceries for them. They'd give her 5 cents for each bundle, money she'd give to her parents. Says Somers, "I learned very early that the elderly love when someone listens to them. They want to share their stories."

She never stopped listening and continues to look for ways to help. She recently launched two iPhone apps -- Elder411 and Elder 911 -- to help caregivers gain instant access to critical advice.

Somers, a grandmother and the mother of three grown children, is spry, needs no medication, is big on a diet of fruits, vegetables and yoga, and practices what she preaches. She got her own long-term care policy a decade ago. "When I die, all my papers, my wishes are up to date. I review them every three years."

She wants others to get their affairs in order, so she soldiers on from town to town in her retrofitted bus. Ever the trouper, she doesn't mind the succession of hotel rooms and she even took driving lessons so that in case of an emergency she could take the wheel. She's a get involved, not afraid to deal with the tough stuff kind of lady. "I'm a big picture person. I like attacking problems from as many ways as possible," says Somers.

High on her agenda is rallying the masses to write to their legislators and push Congress to provide additional tax deductions or rebates to help people better afford long-term care insurance. "We know the government isn't going to be able to provide all the help that's needed, so help the people help themselves. It's a win-win," says Somers.

Somers has spent a lifetime listening. She's wondering though, who's really listening to her, "Our system wasn't built for people to live beyond 65. Nobody was thinking that Social Security would need to be there for people in their 80s or even 100. Are they going to wait until the whole system fails?"

With that possibility in mind, she's already planning road trip No. 5.

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Here a crummy nursing home costs over $5,000 a month and this isn't a rich area. When granny runs out of money and goes on Medicaid, the taxpayer has to foot the bill.

July 14 2011 at 9:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The experts say some people alive today will live to be 150. YIKES, they'll have to work til they're 100.

July 14 2011 at 9:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

the answer to america's seniors is right in the article. it says the system wasn't designed for people to live much beyond the age of 65. well, since they are, they are going to have to be productive longer. instead of retiring at 65 with no money, alot of people are going to have to remain in the workforce. also, medicare may have to start for people a little later in life. i imagine that is another reason for a lawyer to sue the drug companies, now they are making everyone live too long.

July 14 2011 at 6:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

To the insurance person, she is right, I have been in the geriatric care business for years, and I also see first hand what goes on. I also see how LTC carriers do what they can to typically deny claims! I have worked for the long term care insurance business doing claim evaluations, I know what they do! This country is truly heading for a meltdown in elder healthcare! She is right on in current costs for home health care and nursing home care. Today, in a typical independent living home, the cost is about $110.00 per day, $3,400.00 per month, or $ 40,000.00 per year; this is without any additional services. Long term care policies, if the carrier will honor the claim, typically have a limit on the number of months/years of coverage. Very few run over 7 -10 years, and those are with high premiums. Wake up America, can we continue to take care of the world and not our own citizens?

July 14 2011 at 5:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to AOFCARE's comment

Trillions spent on useless wars in the Mideast - we will never change the culture of Moslem countries and it is not our business to do so ! Awake America your leaders are destroying our Country !!!

July 14 2011 at 7:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mighty wizard

Her numbers about long term care r wrong what a scam trying to frighten folks. As one of the first insurance agents in America to sell long term care insurance I know the figures. Even back in the mid 80's one could purchase this insurance. If one has the assets to protect I would advise geting it. The odds r 1 out of 4 who live to 65 yrs old will need LTC and as one gets older of course the odds go up but no where near 70% unless one lives to be 90

July 14 2011 at 3:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Dr. Marion,
if the very Doctors that are making ppl live longer make the minds work longer then less ppl will need long term care. The key is to keep people at home it is cheaper in the long run. Fix the mind!

July 14 2011 at 11:43 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Dr. Marion please include in your talks with legislators the benefits of offering "health care" to people. Insurance companies should pay for massage therapy, biofeedback, accupressure, spa memberships, diet programs etc. What we have in this country is "sick care". We need to invest our efforts in paying for thing that keep folks healthy instead of sick. It was cost much less and produce better results.

July 14 2011 at 11:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Can someone tell me, Is Obama and the rest of the government getting their paychecks if Congress doesn't come to a decision??? Also, let those in Washington start paying towards their health benefits!!! Stop the private pension plan that they have e

July 14 2011 at 11:03 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to klsbo's comment

Are Obama's butlers, maids, chefs, Airforce 1 pilots, Marine 1 pilots, Secret Service agents, chauffers, and his wife's secretaries getting their paychecks?

July 14 2011 at 11:22 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

How about Michelle's staff of 130 assistants................think that they will miss a check? What the hell does this nitwit need that many assistants for, to plan her vacations and joy rides around the globe with the whole damned family? Michelle Obama was not hired for anything. If she wants a personal staff she should be paying for them out of her own pocket. Further, no president should warrant Secret Service protection after they have been out of office for five years. I bet I could cut the government budget by a full third with most of it right in the city of DC.

July 14 2011 at 5:24 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Thank you Ms. Somers. My grandmother is 88 years old and very likely has some form of Alzheimers or dementia. My grandparents did not save for retirement, they lived month to month on their retirement checks. When my grandfather died thirteen years ago, my grandmother was 75 years old, he was 76 and died of a heart attack in the middle of the night. My grandmother lives in rural Georgia, two hours away from Atlanta and about 40 miles west of Augusta. When my dad was growing up, my grandmother and grandfather worked to support the family.

In those days, it was very rare for moms to work, but today it is common for moms to work and feed the family. My grandmother is on a blood thinner called Pradaxa, her heart doctor put her on Coumadin (sp?) two years ago and with that medication she went for blood tests every two weeks. With Pradaxa, she does not need to go for blood tests every two weeks. She has been showing signs of Alzheimers or dementia for at least the last 10 years, if not, since my grandfather died. When he died, she started sleeping longer and in recent years she has been very forgetful, not just normal forgetful either.

The last couple of years, she couldn't remember where she was going or how she got there. This has been increasingly frequent. My dad's brother (my uncle), brought it up to my grandmother's doctor and heart doctor, but neither of them seem to be worried about it at all. My dad wants to tell them to check her out and get her some much needed care. But he says they won't listen to him. About two weeks ago, my dad talked to my uncle and they were talking for a while.

When he came back inside, he said the night before, my grandmother was messing around getting dressed and everything as if it were daytime, but it was 9:30pm. My uncle said ma what are you doing? She said getting ready for my hair appointment and he said ma it is 9:30 at night and you are not going anywhere. When my mom went to check the mail, my dad asked my opinion and I told him, I think grandma needs to be checked out and not just by her regular doctor or heart doctor. She needs to see a neurologist and see what she may have whether it is Alzheimers or dementia or depression.

I do not know why nobody is concerned about her brain's health. It is normal to forget where you placed a library book or a cell phone or any number of things, but to get ready for an appointment when it is nighttime, there is something definitely wrong with that. I understand how much money tests like that would cost, but something definitely needs to be done about it. Your brain is what you rely on all your life and it is important to keep your brain healthy for as long as possible on your own.

I believe Ms. Somers is doing the right thing, making people aware of the cost of living when they get older. The time to start planning for that stage of life is when you start getting a paycheck and putting a certain percentage. Not when you are in your 40s or 50s/

July 14 2011 at 10:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My suggestion: Make sure you have a 1st floor bedroom and bathroom. Seniors can stay in their own homes longer if they don't have to tackle stairs. Also don't wait too long to move. Is it easier to move your belongings when your 65 or 75? Dr. Somers is right- plan ahead.

July 14 2011 at 8:48 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply