The amount, distribution, and timing of lifetime nursing home use

Med Care. 1997 Mar;35(3):204-18. doi: 10.1097/00005650-199703000-00003.


Objectives: Information on lifetime nursing home use is needed to design and evaluate long-term care financing reforms. Whereas a number of studies have estimated mean lifetime use or its distribution, very little is known about variation in use among subgroups of the population, the timing of use, the number of distinct episodes of care experienced by nursing home users, and the risk and expected use at ages other than age 65. The purpose of the study was to fill these gaps in knowledge.

Methods: The study used a data base constructed to represent decedents who used nursing homes. The sample was derived from the sample of discharges collected as part of the 1985 National Nursing Home Survey. Weights were constructed for the purpose of making projections of remaining lifetime nursing home use at selected ages in 1995.

Results: There was considerable variation in lifetime use among demographic groups. Overall, estimates of the amount of use remaining at selected ages tended to be relatively constant at approximately 1 year. Mean years until nursing home admission, however, decreased sharply from almost 40 years at age 45 to approximately 5 years at age 85.

Conclusions: The distribution of lifetime use was highly skewed, providing support for efforts to spread risk through public or private insurance. With roughly one quarter of all use occurring after 5 years of nursing home residence, however, a substantial share of use would exceed benefit maximums that are part of many proposals for public financing of long-term care as well as private insurance policies.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Databases, Factual
  • Demography
  • Female
  • Health Services Research
  • Humans
  • Long-Term Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nursing Homes / statistics & numerical data*
  • Risk Factors
  • Time Factors
  • United States / epidemiology