Homelessness comes with its own share of tremendous challenges and hardships, but those problems become even greater when they are faced by the elderly. According to a report published in The Gerontologist, elderly people who live on the streets tend to endure harsher age-related illnesses than people who reside in homes. Such findings should come as no surprise but further underscore the serious problems posed by homelessness and poverty and serve as a reminder that it is important to be mindful of the needy and downtrodden.
Physicians and scientists from the University of California, Stony Brook University and the Veterans Administration investigated the prevalence of geriatric conditions in older homeless adults and to learn whether the problems endured by these people differed across living environments.
To find the answer, the research team interviewed 350 homeless adults in Oakland, California. The respondents whom were age 50 years and older resided in one of four living arrangements:
- unsheltered locations (162 people)
- multiple locations including shelters and hotels (88 people)
- intermittently with family/friends (57 people)
- rental housing (43 people)
The research team, led by Dr. Rebecca Brown of the University of California, used a 6-month follow back residential calendar to assess the interviewees living conditions during the previous 6 months.
Sadly, Brown et al learned that 38.7% of the interviewees had problems performing even one task of daily living. Other interviewees (25.8 %) told the researchers that they suffered from cognitive impairments. Other findings include:
- 33.7% of interviewees suffered falls during the past 6 months
- 45.1% had impaired vision
- 48.0% of those interviewed screened positive for urinary incontinence
Brown et al determined that the prevalence geriatric conditions did not differ significantly across living environments.
When I read about the findings, I was a bit taken back that people 50 years of age would be included in a geriatric study. But when I thought about how physical and emotional stress have a tendency to speed up the aging process, it began to make sense.
Brown and her colleagues noted that geriatric conditions was common among the interviewees and that "the prevalence of these conditions was higher than that seen in housed adults 20 years older".
Environmental stressors e.g. exposure to extreme cold or heat, lack of sanitation, and improper diet will take a tremendous toll on the human body.
Imagine how physically damaging this will be if a person must endure such harsh conditions for months and even years on end?
It brings to mind the apostle Paul's words in Romans 8:35 when he asked "Who shall separate us from the love of God? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril or sword?" because in this way so many people suffer homelessness because of poverty. There are people who become homeless through bad choices, but others are turned out because of a lack of money to pay bills, or because hospitals are unable to keep them long term (such is the case with the mentally ill).
We should be mindful of those around us, and help in whatever ways are open to us. Brown et al wrote that services are needed to address the problems of the geriatric population across varied living environments.
It is not possible to completely eliminate poverty and homelessness from the face of the earth, but we can do our part to help ease the suffering of others. That help can by offering food whenever we can, giving donations at church that help care for the homeless, and extending a gentle hand when we see someone in trouble.
We have to do this because Jesus asks us to help others and we do this to be like Him. We do this sharing the same hope that Paul had in Romans 8:38-39 saying: "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
That is the hope of everyone who believes in the Son of God.
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Brown RT, Hemati K, Riley ED, Lee CT, Ponath, C, Tieu, L, Guzman, D, Kushel MB. Geriatric Conditions in a Population-Based Sample of Older Homeless Adults. Gerontologist. 2016 doi: 10.1093/geront/gnw011
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"Elderly Homeless People Face Harsher Age-Related Conditions Than Elderly People Who Live In Homes" copyright © 2016 Living Fit, Healthy and Happy(SM). All Rights Reserved.