Risk of Nursing Home Use among Older Americans: The Impact of Psychiatric History and Trajectories of Cognitive Function

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Objective Mental illness and cognitive functioning may be independently associated with nursing home use. We investigated the strength of the association between baseline (1998) psychiatric history, eight-year cognitive function trajectories, and prospective incidence of nursing home use over a ten-year period while accounting for relevant covariates in U.S. adults aged 65 and older. We hypothesized that self-reported baseline history of psychiatric, emotional or nervous problems would be associated with greater risk of nursing home use, and that cognition trajectories with the greatest decline would be associated with subsequent higher risk of nursing home use. Methods We used eight waves (1998-2016) of Health and Retirement Study data for adults aged 65 years and older. Latent class mixture modeling identified four distinct cognitive function trajectory classes (1998-2006): low-declining, medium-declining, medium-stable, high-declining. Participants from the 1998 wave (N = 5628) were classified into these four classes. Competing risks regression analysis modeled the sub-hazard of nursing home use between 2006 and 2016 as a function of baseline psychiatric history and cognitive function trajectories. Results Psychiatric history was independently associated with greater risk of nursing home use (SHR 1.26, 95% CI 1.06-1.51, p<.01), net the effects of life course variables. Further, “low declining” (SHR 2.255, 95% CI 1.70-2.99, p<.001) and “medium declining” (2.103, 95% CI 1.69-2.61, p<.001) trajectories predicted increased risk of nursing home use. Discussion Evidence of these associations can be used to educate policymakers and providers about the need for appropriate psychiatric training for staff in community-based and residential long-term care programs.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbergbab045
Number of pages40
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
StateE-pub ahead of print - Mar 15 2021


  • mental illness
  • life course health
  • assisted living
  • cognition trajectories
  • aging


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