The average daily cost of a private room in a nursing home in the United States increased almost 6% from last year, according to the annual MetLife Market Survey of Nursing Home and Home Care Costs.

The survey, by MetLife’s Mature Market Institute, found the average nursing home cost is $203 per day, up 5.7% from last year’s $192.

That works out to $74,095 annually, compared to just over $70,000 in 2004.

Once again, Alaska nursing homes topped the list, with a daily cost of $531, while the Shreveport, La., area was lowest at $115. (See chart.)

The average daily rate for a semi-private room nationally was $176 ($64,240 annually), up 4.1% from $169 in 2004.

The study found that the cost per hour of a home health care aide increased $1, or 5.5%, to $19 per hour nationally, while homemaker-companion care averaged $17 per hour (homemaker-companion data was not included in prior MetLife studies).

The lowest costs for both home health care aides and homemakers-companions were $17 and $12 per hour in Shreveport, La. The highest cost for a home health care aide was Vermont at $31, while homemakers-companions cost the most in Rochester, Minn., at $23 per hour.

The rise in LTC costs can result in a crisis for people who are not prepared financially to handle them, says Sandra Timmermann, director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute.

“Because long term care services are so costly and the costs will increase significantly over time, planning for long term care must be an integral part of the retirement planning process,” Timmermann says.

The average stay in a nursing home is 2.4 years, MetLife notes, citing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta. That would bring the total average cost to $177,828 for a nursing home stay.

(A study published last year by University of California researchers found among more than 1.3 million nursing home residents, half needed help with five activities of daily living and 24% with four ADLs. About 95% required help with bathing, 87% with dressing and 51% with eating. Over 44% were diagnosed with dementia.)

The MetLife survey of private pay rates for nursing homes and home care agencies in 87 markets was conducted by telephone in July and August by LifePlans Inc., Waltham, Mass.

Alaska nursing homes were again the highest with an average daily rate of $531