Send to

Choose Destination
N Engl J Med. 1991 Feb 28;324(9):595-600.

Lifetime use of nursing home care.

Author information

Division of Long Term Care Studies, Center for Intramural Research, Agency for Health Care Policy Research, Rockville, MD 20857.



Despite the growth in the number of Americans in nursing homes, there are only limited data on the total amount of time that people spend in such facilities. We estimate the amount of time the average person spends in nursing homes over his or her lifetime (lifetime nursing home use), using data from the National Mortality Followback Survey of the next of kin of a sample of persons 25 years of age or older who died in 1986. On the basis of these data, we estimated the likelihood that Americans will use nursing home care during the course of their lifetimes and the total duration of such care. Current data on life expectancy were then used to reweight the sample to project lifetime nursing home use for those who became 65 years old in 1990.


Of those who died in 1986 at 25 years of age or older, 29 percent had at some time been residents in a nursing home, and almost half of those who entered a nursing home spent a cumulative total of at least one year there. The probability of nursing home use increased sharply with age at death: 17 percent for age 65 to 74, 36 percent for age 75 to 84, and 60 percent for age 85 to 94. For persons who turned 65 in 1990, we project that 43 percent will enter a nursing home at some time before they die. Of those who enter nursing homes, 55 percent will have total lifetime use of at least one year, and 21 percent will have total lifetime use of five years or more. We also project that more women than men will enter nursing homes (52 percent vs. 33 percent), and among them, more women than men will have total lifetime nursing home use of five years or more (25 percent vs. 13 percent).


Our projections indicate that over a lifetime, the risk of entering a nursing home and spending a long time there is substantial. With the elderly population growing, this has important implications for both medical practice and the financing of long-term care.

Comment in

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free full text

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Atypon
Loading ...
Support Center