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LTC Bullet: The Healthier You Are, the Longer You May Spend in a Nursing Home

Monday July 27, 1998


It's not news that Americans are living longer and healthier lives. However, the impact of this fact on our ability to finance long-term care for the baby boom generation definitely is news.

In the current issue (July 1998) of The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, Social Sciences, Sarah B. Laditka's article "Modeling Lifetime Nursing Home Use Under Assumptions of Better Health" examines the following hypothesis: "If members of the baby boom generation spend a larger percentage of their longer lives in better health, a lower demand for nursing homes is likely to result than if they live a greater proportion of their longer lives in worse health." (p. S178)

Sounds reasonable, but here's what the study found: "In contrast with what was hypothesized, when increased longevity came as a result of better health, the proportion of life spent in a nursing home (i.e., relative nursing home use) did not decrease or change. Second, better health did not appreciably reduce the proportion of the cohorts that used nursing homes….Better health did result in an increase in the absolute number of years older persons spent in nursing homes.
This result implies that if morbidity improves there will be an increase in the use of long-term care services--an increase above that which researchers should expect from the anticipated larger number of older adults alone." (pps. S184-85)

In other words, the healthier you are, the longer you are likely to live; and the longer you live, the more likely you are to need expensive long-term care. So much for the common objection to long-term care insurance that: "I'm healthy and my family is long-lived so I'll never need that coverage." The truth is that healthy people need long-term care protection even more than sick people, who may pass on relatively quickly and inexpensively.