A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and reported by WebMD, suggests that “more than half of Americans will find themselves in a nursing home at some point in their lives.”
This statistic is significantly higher than the 35% that was previously reported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
More Than Half of Americans Will Need Nursing Home Care
But why the discrepancy?
The study showed that nursing home care admission rates are substantially greater than previous research suggested and it has also uncovered interesting social demographic trends:
- Only 10% of people will spend more than 1,000 days receiving care in a facility
- Overall, nursing home stays are generally much shorter than seniors expect
- Short stays of less than three weeks make up the majority of nursing home visits
Why the Increase in Admission Rates?
The study conducted by the RAND Corporation suggests several reasons why admission rates are on the rise, or may have been underreported.
The most prominent reason is the increase in shorter stays (21 nights or less) which rose substantially from 28% in 1998 to 34% in 2010. In other words, seniors are being admitted to long-term care facilities for brief periods of time.
The purpose of these short stays is to recover from an illness or surgery or to offer respite to familial caregivers – which is in stark contrast to admissions of the past where senior patients with nowhere else to go were placed in nursing home care to live out their remaining years.
The study also suggested other reasons for increased admission rates, including:
- An increase in the senior population: Specifically, aging baby boomers.
- A shift in family support: Adult children do not have the same availability as previous generations to care for senior loved ones. However, when a family can provide care, it substantially reduces a patient’s length of stay in hospital and nursing facilities and cuts costs by up to 38%.
- Earlier hospital discharges: Patients are being discharged from the hospital to nursing homes for rehab or recovery to control Medicare and Medicaid costs.
- Higher incidents of patients with dementia.
Michael Hurd, the lead author and a senior principal researcher at RAND, states that the purpose of this study is to help seniors and their families better prepare for their health care needs as they age.
Hurd explains “this information could help people make better decisions about how they or their loved ones will pay for the care they are likely to need.”
What Are the Financial Implications?
The study suggests that one in three Americans between the ages of 57-61 will spend their own money, without the assistance of insurance or government funding, to pay for nursing home care, while “43% will be completely covered by private or public insurance.”
While out-of-pocket spending is not necessarily unaffordable (about $7,300 per person over a lifetime), the personal expense of a long, uninsured stay can be catastrophic, with 5% of patients spending more than $50,000 during a stay of 1,500 days or longer.
In the article published by WebMD, Dr. David Katz, president of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, states that the best way to reduce the need for a nursing home stay is to live an active, healthy lifestyle. Following a healthy lifestyle will reduce your risk of developing a chronic disease, such as cancer, diabetes or heart disease that can result in the need for nursing home care.
Steps you can take to improve your overall health today include:
- Eating healthy
- Exercising regularly
- Getting enough sleep – Healthline recommends older adults sleep 7-8 hours per night
- Limiting alcohol consumption
- Losing weight (if you are overweight)
- Protecting your skin
- Quit smoking or using tobacco
Whether you’re taking care of your health or saving for retirement, Hund emphasizes the importance of seeking accurate information when planning for the future: “families need to take this [information] into account for financial planning and society needs to be prepared to assist families that cannot finance nursing home stays,” he says.
When planning for your care as you age, be sure to include the costs of a potential nursing home care stay (if you haven’t already), and do your best to avoid long-term care by focusing on your health and wellness.
Were you aware that nursing home care admission rates are substantially greater than previous research suggested? We’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments below.