How Many Seniors Really End Up In Nursing Homes?

How many older people live in nursing homes in the United States? 

According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, slightly over 5 percent of the 65+ population occupy nursing homes, congregate care, assisted living, and board-and-care homes, and about 4.2 percent are in nursing homes at any given time. The rate of nursing home use increases with age from 1.4 percent of the young-old to 24.5 percent of the oldest-old. Almost 50 percent of those 95 and older live in nursing homes.

Linda Breytspraak, Center on Aging Studies, University of Missouri-Kansas City

How Many Seniors Really End Up In Nursing Homes?


As the baby boom generation ages, and many are considering whether they will need to have long-term care insurance, one of the first questions asked is “what are the odds that I will end up in a nursing home? Another is “what percentage of today’s elderly need this type of care?”

Some statistics:

First, currently 5 percent of the older population lives in nursing homes (skilled care facilities), with an average life-expectancy of approximately six months upon entrance into the nursing home.

Second, you can assume that all things being equal, we can expect an equal proportion of baby boomers to reside in nursing homes at any given time. There are an estimated 78 million baby boomers. So, approximately 5 percent, or 3.9 million are expected to head for these facilities. Today, a senior citizen (65+) has about a one-in-four chance of spending time in a nursing home (skilled care facility).

Third … and this is where the predictions about baby boomers and nursing homes gets a little fuzzy. The types of facilities available to the elderly are increasing. For example, 10 years ago, the elder lived in a home (residence) or in a nursing home (skilled care facility). And that was it.

Now, housing options for elders are increasing with the introduction of custodial care facilities like adult congregate living facilities (ACLF)…there are level-one and level-two ACLFs. The ACLF “levels” refer to levels of care. Some seniors only need housekeeping and a hot meal. Others need assistance with dressing and bathing. Here’s the point. Many of today’s seniors who are now in nursing homes (because they have nowhere else to go) will continue to be diverted to ACLFs in the future, reducing the nursing home population.

Finally, factor in new policies such as reverse mortgages which allow dependent elders to stay in their own homes, using the equity to pay for “in-home care”… further reducing nursing home stays.

What do we know for sure? About 14 percent of all people over age 65 have two to three chronic conditions that erode their ability to live independently. While we may not know exactly how many baby boomers will reside in a “nursing home”, we do know that about 14 percent of this population will become vulnerable enough to require extra care. Based on that statistic, we can expect nearly 11 million vulnerable boomers requiring assistance.

While the housing trends (more options) have changed, the aging process has not. Though science has advanced both our understanding of aging and the medicines for intervention, Americans continue to ignore that knowledge. They’re over-eating, over-weight, get too little exercise, and endure continued isolation brought on by the computer age. Remember, 75 percent of the factors that determine how someone will fare in later life are the result of lifestyle, not the aging process.

–Source: David Demko, AgeVenture News Service,, Boca Raton, Florida.