The Residential Continuum From Home to Nursing Home: Size, Characteristics and Unmet Needs of Older Adults

Objectives. Older adults with care needs live in a variety of settings—from traditional community housing to nursing homes. This analysis provides new estimates of the size and characteristics of the older population across settings and examines unmet needs for assistance.Method. Data are from the 2011 National Health and Aging Trends Study (N = 8,077). Multinomial logistic regressions focus on people in settings other than nursing homes who are at risk for unmet needs, defined as receiving help or having difficulty with household, self-care, or mobility activities (N = 4,023).Results. Of 38.1 million Medicare beneficiaries ages 65 and older, 5.5 million (15%) live in settings other than traditional housing: 2.5 million in retirement or senior housing communities, nearly 1 million in independent- and 1 million in assisted-living settings, and 1.1 million in nursing homes. The prevalence of assistance is higher and physical and cognitive capacity lower in each successive setting. Unmet needs are common in traditional community housing (31%), but most prevalent in retirement or senior housing (37%) and assisted living settings (42%). After controlling for differences in resident characteristics across settings, those in retirement or senior housing communities have a higher likelihood of unmet needs than those in traditional community housing, while those in independent or assisted living settings have a lower relative likelihood.Discussion. Substantial numbers of older adults, many with care needs, live in a continuum of settings other than traditional community housing. Unmet needs are prevalent among older adults with limitations across all settings and warrant further investigation and monitoring.