Homeless aging before their time

  • 2016-04-05
  • The Columbus Dispatch

Debby Francis says there’s only one way to describe her life: “a hot mess.”

Homeless for nearly two years, Francis never dreamed that her body would be battered from bouncing from family and friends to a storage unit and then to a crowded shelter. It didn’t help that she was dealing with the fallout of cancer and several untreated medical conditions at the same time.

“I’m only 54 and shouldn’t be using a walker, having trouble getting up and down the stairs or needing to limit my activity like an 80-year-old,” she said.

Francis’ concerns that she’s aging before her time are not unfounded, according to new research out of the University of California-San Francisco.

“People who are homeless live such intensely difficult lives,” said Dr. Margot Kushel, a professor of medicine at UCSF and senior author of a study that followed 350 homeless people in Oakland, California.

Although the median age of people in the study was 58, they had more trouble bathing, dressing and eating than many 70-, 80- and 90-year-olds, Kushel said. They also had a harder time using transportation, taking medication, managing money, applying for benefits and arranging job interviews.

Many had chronic problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart and lung diseases, she said. They also had higher rates of cognitive and visual impairments, and were more likely to fall and be depressed.

Problems with drugs and alcohol made things worse for some, Kushel said.

As the country’s population ages, the homeless are getting older, too. In the early 1990s, only 11 percent of the adult homeless population was age 50 or older. That increased to 37 percent by 2003, and today half of America’s homeless are older than 50.