Older adults' rising debt may be affecting their health

A growing number of adults 55 and older have debt that could adversely affect their health, the New York Times reported June 5. 

Urban Institute researchers found that older adults fare worse on a range of health measures, including depression, inability to work and impaired ability to handle such everyday activities as bathing and dressing, according to the report. 

Those in debt were also more likely to have had two or more physician-diagnosed illnesses, such as hypertension, diabetes, cancer, heart and lung disease, heart attacks and strokes.

The Urban Institute researchers found that in 1998, about 43 percent of Americans over the age of 55 had a median debt of $40,145, according to the report. By 2016, about 57 percent had a median debt of $62,784.

Secured debt, such as mortgages, appeared to be less detrimental to health than unsecured debt, such as overdue medical bills, according to the report. Urban Institute senior research associate Stipica Mudrazija, PhD, told the Times the mechanism through which debt affects health remains unclear. He said, however, that secured debt is planned and unsecured debt is often a surprise. 

"You lose a job and have to live off a credit card," Dr. Mudrazija told the Times. "You get sick and face a huge hospital bill. The shock and stress might translate to deteriorating health.”

Read the full report here

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