Even though the number of senior care options has expanded in the past couple decades as different models have developed and evolved, consumer trends have stayed much the same with some small adjustments following the Great Recession.
The Google Trends chart below shows consumer interest in five search terms between January 2004 and April 2013, where purple represents searches for a “nursing home,” blue represents searches for “assisted living,” gold represents “home health care,” red represents “retirement community,” and green represents “memory care.”
Interest in the “nursing home” search term has continued to grow in the past nine years as the population gets older, despite assisted living’s role as a less expensive alternative for those needing help with a few activities of daily living rather than around-the-clock skilled nursing care.
“The reality is, people don’t plan ahead for senior care,” says Julie Northcutt, CEO of Caregiverlist.com, which recently analyzed the rates of 18,000 nursing facilities to compile lists of the most and least expensive nursing homes by city. “Nursing homes are an extension of a hospital stay, and Medicare pays for a nursing home up to 100 days. So if a senior has a stroke, or falls and has a hip replacement, two days later they’re being discharged from the hospital and need a nursing home.”
From when the Great Recession began in 2008 to today, searches for a “nursing home” have generally increased, while “assisted living” searches have stayed steady, “home health care” interest has risen slightly, and searches for “retirement communities” have decreased somewhat. “Memory care” as a search term has only been marginally used so far.
Other types of senior living or care are generally less utilized, Northcutt says, because most consumers wait to find a senior care option until after a major medical incident.
“They’re told by the hospital or doctor that Medicare will pay for the nursing home [for a certain amount of time] and, since senior care can be expensive, they want to take advantage of that,” she says. “People know the term, so the ‘nursing home’ search is often where they’re going to start.”
Assisted living, on the other hand, can be more complicated in terms of the kinds of services it offers, while home health care is not always the best choice for people depending on their care needs.
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Interest in nursing homes isn’t expected to diminish in the near future, especially considering the nation’s 85+ population is the most rapidly-growing age group, according to the U.S. Census, expected to number 19 million—or 5% of the overall population—by 2050.
“Pretty much anyone who lives long enough goes to the hospital [as a Medicare beneficiary] and is going to pass through a nursing home,” Northcutt says. “Just like knowing in advance what hospitals are the best to go to, people want to know the best nursing home, too.”
However, as the senior care industry continues to evolve, new search terms may crop up and popularize.
“Hopefully there will be more and more new resources that combine the assisted living and nursing home concept,” says Northcutt.
Written by Alyssa Gerace