The Aged Care Association says no government is or has been prepared for the impending rise in older people needing residential care.
It says the situation will be extremely difficult to tackle, due to the combination of the economic downturn, fewer taxpayers and increasing demand for care services.
Association chief executive Martin Taylor says research to be completed in 2011 should at least identify the cost and effect of rapidly expanding demand.
However, he says there will have to be a general acceptance that more of New Zealand's gross domestic product needs to be spent in the health sector, particularly the aged residential care sector.
"However, there's a big question: Where is the money going to come from? We know we've got a decade of deficits ahead of us - just at the time when the baby boomers are coming on, wanting more services."
The association says if this does happen, more elderly people will have to be cared for at home.
Mr Taylor says at present, about $1 billion a year is spent on aged residential care to look after about 42,000 people. He says a $5 million package for respite care for the elderly, to be introduced this year, is a good start.