The changing face of the care home population in the first decade of the 21st century has been outlined in a study by the Office of National Statistics.
The analysis focuses on the changes in the over 65 resident care home population of England and Wales. This age group represents most of the care home population – 82.5 per cent in 2011.
The key points from the ONS study are:
- The care home resident population for those aged 65 and over has remained almost unchanged since 2001, with an increase of only 0.3 per cent, despite growth of 11.0 per cent in the overall population at this age.
- Fewer women but more men aged 65 and over, were living as residents of care homes in 2011 compared to 2001; the population of women fell by around 9,000 (- 4.2 per cent) while the population of men increased by around 10,000 (15.2 per cent).
- The gender gap in the older resident care home population has, therefore, narrowed since 2001. In 2011 there were around 2.8 women for each man aged 65 and over compared to a ratio of 3.3 women for each man in 2001.
- The resident care home population is ageing. In 2011, people aged 85 and over represented 59.2 per cent of the older care home population compared to 56.5 per cent in 2001.
The ONS says that while people aged over 65 in England and Wales has grown by 11 per cent, the number and proportion of people at this age living in care homes has remained relatively stable at close to 300,000 people.
One explanation for this stability in the face of an increasingly aged population is the improvement in the health of the population between 2001 and 2011 and this may also explain why the care home population of those aged 85 and over has increased.
A major contribution to the stability of the aged care home population is likely to be due to the increase in unpaid carers. There were an additional 600,000 unpaid carers in 2011 compared to 2001. Given that unpaid care is likely to be provided by a spouse or family member, the increased longevity of men in particular, could be behind the fall in the numbers of women entering care homes.
However, as the provision of unpaid care seems to have negative consequences for the health of the carer, there is an increased likelihood that these people will themselves require care in later life.
A further potential explanation is that relatives and/or friends may be more inclined to provide unpaid care to relieve the financial burden of care home costs. As a result, people in need of social care may be encouraged to live in their own homes, receiving unpaid care or domiciliary care rather than move into a care facility, for as long as possible. This could help contribute to a much older care home population.