Study: About 8 million Americans used long term care in 2012

As the population gets older, the U.S. is beginning to gain a fuller understanding of what impact the aging population will have in the coming decades. A new study sheds light on a sometimes-overlooked area of retirement - long term care. Researchers from the National Center for Health Statistics found that in 2012, approximately 8 million Americans used some form of long term care, USA Today reported.

Aside from providing eye-opening statistics in the realm of senior living, researchers also revealed that Americans are using a wide variety of care options. For instance, the 8 million figure includes seniors who reside in assisted living and retirement communities as well as those who take advantage of the benefits of at-home care.

"Most think of nursing homes, but because the long term care industry has evolved over the past 30 years, nursing homes are still the major player in long term care services but not the only provider," Lauren Harris-Kojetin, the report's lead author, told the publication. 

Although the results offer insight into senior living habits, it also highlights the significant role family caregivers play.  Earlier this year, findings from the Pew Research Center revealed that about 39 percent of American adults care for a loved one with an illness.

The two studies suggest that senior care plays an integral role in healthy aging, and it's important to recognize the signs that long term care might be the best option. One of the most telling symptoms is if a loved one needs assistance with daily living activities. Some indicators include difficulty with tasks such as meal preparation, homemaking and medication management.