As in other ageing populations, dementia, musculoskeletal conditions and cardiovascular disease affect a high proportion of Australians aged over 65 years, and the prevalence of these conditions increases significantly with age. People with these conditions may need to access a range of care services over time to enable them to remain living in their homes. Many eventually need to move into a nursing home.
In contrast to the considerable recent literature on the funding of long-term care systems for population ageing, studies on the care pathways followed by individuals are much less common. This paper explores the effect of disease on use of community care services and nursing homes over time, focusing on people with dementia, cardiovascular disease and musculoskeletal conditions. Care-use transitions are identified using linked administrative client data for a cohort of 33,300 community-living Australians who had an aged care assessment in 2003-04 and who had not previously used aged care services.
The different symptoms and courses of diseases meant that the patterns of aged care service use, both in terms of care services accessed and the timing of this access, varied considerably for people with different health conditions. These differences persisted across a range of client characteristics. In particular, people with dementia or cerebrovascular disease as their main health condition were more likely to enter nursing home care than those with heart disease or musculoskeletal conditions.
The variation in use of aged care services according to disease group need to be taken into account in any projections of demand for aged care. Such projections must allow for predictions of disease prevalence, or else they will yield inaccurate predictions of demand for both community and residential care.