U.S. Census: More Seniors Are Living With Disabilities, Fewer in Nursing Homes

In June 2014, the U.S. Census Bureau released "65+ in the United States: 2010," a major report about our nation's seniors, based on data collected during the most recent census. Said the Census Bureau's Enrique Lamas, "The findings, released with the National Institute on Aging (NIA) at the National Institutes of Health, provide the most detailed information available on the demographic, economic, and health and wellness characteristics of this rapidly growing dynamic population."

A big focus, of course, is on the numbers. The report found that in 2010, there were 40.3 million people aged 65 and older. The percentage of our population aged 65 and older has increased from only 4 percent in the year 1900 to 13 percent today, and is projected to rise to more than 20 percent by the year 2050.

These numbers also mean a huge projected growth in the number of people living with disability caused by chronic, age-related health conditions such as arthritis, osteoporosis and other musculoskeletal disorders; heart disease and other circulatory conditions; diabetes; lung conditions; vision and hearing loss; and dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease. The report showed that among people aged 85 and older, 30 percent have difficulty dressing and bathing, 50 percent have difficulty doing errands alone and 53 percent have difficulty walking and climbing stairs.

For this reason, a large proportion of people older than 65 will need long-term care at some point. "65+ in the United States: 2010" defines long-term care as "assistance to people who have a prolonged physical illness, disability or severe cognitive impairment that hinders daily functioning. In contrast to medical care, which focuses on preventing, diagnosing and treating disease, long-term care provides assistance with essential and routine aspects of life."

Where is this care being provided? With the aging of the population, more people are going to nursing homes for short-term rehabilitation and subacute care. But a decreasing percentage of seniors are opting to receive long-term care in a nursing home. The report states, "Americans 65 and older living in a nursing home fell 20 percent between 2000 and 2010, from 1.6 million to 1.3 million. Meanwhile, the share in other care settings has been growing."

The alternative settings include assisted living facilities, which provide a more limited set of support services paired with greater independence. But most seniors prefer to receive care at home if possible; the report states that up to 90 percent of people older than 50 express this preference. More seniors with disabilities are living at home. They receive assistance from family members and friends, but the Census report reminds us that smaller families and a higher divorce rate mean a smaller pool of people who can help. (Along those lines, an October 2013 Caring Right at Home poll found that 75 percent of readers report they would have no more than two people who might help them if they were to become disabled.) This is one of the reasons that a growing number of seniors are taking advantage of professional in-home care.

Skilled healthcare services can be provided at home and are cost-effective. For example, according to the Census report, "Medicaid can provide home- and community-based services to three people for the same cost as one patient in a nursing home."

Nonmedical supportive care services also help seniors successfully age in place—staying in their own homes while remaining active and independent. In-home caregivers provide:

  • Personal care and hygiene, such as bathing, dressing, grooming and toileting.
  • Companionship and stimulating activities in the home.
  • Support for healthcare management.
  • Housekeeping and laundry services.
  • Meal planning and preparation.
  • Transportation to health appointments, errands and pleasant outings.
  • Supervision and encouragement to help clients remain physically active.
  • Medication management.
  • Memory care and supervision for clients with Alzheimer's disease or other cognitive impairment.

Learn More

Read the entire "65+ in the United States: 2010" report on the U.S. Census Bureau website.

For information on topics related to home care and healthcare, visit our Home Care and Healthcare Advocacy group on LinkedIn.  


Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned providers of in home care services.