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21 October 2011
Looming public health crisis linked to GFC

Maryland School of Medicine researchers are warning of a looming health crisis for older adults in the wake of rising mortgage delinquencies and home foreclosures. Their study, appearing in the American Journal of Public Health, is the first long-term survey of the impact the current housing crisis is having on Americans aged 50 and over. Previous research has shown that home ownership is associated with better health while financial strain is associated with worse health and higher death rates.

The study notes that more than a quarter of the people in mortgage default or foreclosure are over 50. "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," said study leader, Dawn E. Alley.

Using data from the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative panel study of Americans older than age 50, the researchers measured psychological impairment, general health status and access to important health-relevant resources. In predicting health outcomes, the researchers controlled for demographic factors, health behaviors, chronic diseases, sources of debt and annual household income.

The findings showed that among participants who were mortgage delinquent, 22 percent developed elevated depressive symptoms compared to only 3 percent of non-delinquent respondents. Twenty-eight percent of mortgage-delinquent participants reported food insecurity compared to 4 percent in the non-delinquent group. In addition, the delinquent group reported much higher levels of cost-related medication non-adherence (32 percent compared to 5 percent).

Alley added that lower-income and minority homeowners were at higher risk for mortgage default. "Our results suggest that the housing crisis may be making health disparities worse, because these groups had poorer health, lower incomes and higher levels of debt even before the current mortgage crisis."

In a separate survey, Alley found that mortgage counselors were seeing a rising tide of health issues among their customers. "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. 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," she noted.

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Source: University of Maryland Medical Center

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