About 7.4% of U.S. residents ages 75 and older lived in nursing homes in 2006, compared with 8.1% in 2000 and 10.2% in 1990, according to data released on Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau, USA Today reports. According to USA Today, the trend reflects the improved health of older adults and more health care choices for the elderly.

The National Nursing Home Survey shows that nursing home residents ages 85 and older in 2006 accounted for less than 16% of the total number of senior residents, compared with more than 21% in 1985. Demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution said, "The upper-income white population has other options than nursing homes," adding, "They're moving to assisted living or their well-off, baby boomer children are taking care of them in other ways." The Census data do not include information on assisted-living facilities.

Elise Bolda, director of the Community Partnership for Older Adults program at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said, "There's no federal definition of assisted living, and that's a void in the data." Senior health care is a significant policy issue in the U.S. as the number of people ages 65 and older by 2030 is expected to nearly double to 71 million, USA Today reports. Sandy Markwood, CEO of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, said, "Given the high cost of nursing home care coupled with older adults' desire to age at home, communities will need to ramp up the availability of home and community-based service options." She added, "If you can keep people in that 65-to-74 age group out of nursing home facilities, it's a significant improvement."

According to the 2006 MetLife Market Survey of Nursing Home and Home Care Costs, the estimated average cost of living in a nursing home is between $67,000 and $100,000 annually. Markwood said nursing home residents typically use all of their money within six months and then must enroll in Medicaid, which will "not only bankrupt individuals but also the Medicaid system" (El Nasser, USA Today, 9/27).

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