The housing crisis and job losses are taking a heavy toll on the health of older Americans, causing increased rates of depression and trade offs on food and medications, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health
Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Public Medicine who conducted the study warn of “a looming health crisis” tied to rising mortgage delinquencies and home foreclosures.
“More than a quarter of people in mortgage default or foreclosure are over 50,” said Dawn E. Alley, the study’s principle investigator and an assistant professor of epidemiology and public health at Maryland.
“For an older person with chronic conditions like diabetes or hypertension, the types of health problems we saw are short-term consequences of falling behind on a mortgage that could have long-run implications for that person’s health,” she said.
The report focused on adults over 50 and found not only high rates of depression among those behind on mortgage payments, but also a “higher likelihood of making unhealthy financial trade offs regarding food and needed prescription medications.”
The study, which also examined a 2008 survey of 2,474 older Americans who had fallen two or more months behind in their mortgages, looked at psychological impairment and general health status.
The 2008 survey revealed that 22 percent of those questioned had increased signs of depression, 28 percent reported food insecurity, and 32 percent admitted that they had been forced to alter their prescription drug routines.
The picture is much worse today, said Alley, because the mortgage defaults are compounded by unemployment.
“Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the number of Americans with depression has been increasing along with rising unemployment,” she noted, adding that mortgage counselors have noticed a rise in health problems as well with their clients.
“We did a separate nationwide survey of mortgage counselors and found that almost 70 percent of them said many of the clients they worked with were depressed or hopeless,” Alley said. “About a third of them said they had worked with someone in the last month who expressed intent for self-harm or suicide. These are very serious and clearly ongoing issues.”
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