Homelessness is Prematurely Aging People

prematurely aging

We’ve all had that one day when we looked in the mirror and noticed a visible sign of age. No matter how prepared we think we are for this, it always comes as quite the shock.

That one gray hair weighs on the mind. You literally can’t get it out of your head. That fine little line on the side of your eye – you’re so certain it wasn’t there yesterday. Even at the edge of adulthood, when your voice took on that slightly more sophisticated tone, you simply were not sure what to make of it.

Noticeable signs of aging evoke feelings of fear, and for good reason. We live in a youth-centric world driven by beauty standards that are nearly impossible to attain.

Los Angeles Daily News points out that witnessing signs of aging can play on our psyches, spurring thoughts of pending illnesses or death. Looking older can have worldly consequences as well, as ageism creeps about the workforce while cosmetic corporations and plastic surgeons seek to subliminally sabotage older images of the self.

However scary it may seem, the one thing that makes aging easier to cope with is the fact that it’s a collective experience. We are all aging. And most of us are doing so at roughly the same pace.

But what if we were not?

What if the aging process suddenly sped up? Not for everybody – just for you? What if, instead of plucking a single gray strand of hair out at 36, you found fistfuls of it at 16? What if, by 45, you were covered in wrinkles from head to toe, your body resembling a 75-year-old by middle age?

As cinematic as this sounds, it likely would be terrifying, bordering on unimaginable. Adding to the horror is that you don’t have to imagine this sped-up aging process. It’s already happening in the homeless community. Now we have a study to prove it.

A Study Focused on Age and Homelessness Concluded that Living Unhoused Causes Premature Aging

We’ve long known that homelessness shaves years, even decades, from people’s lives. It’s startling but true that homeless people in every age group are three times more likely to die from treatable diseases than their housed peers. Now, a Washington D.C. study entitled “The Emerging Crisis of Aged Homelessness” reveals that living in such dire conditions also prematurely ages people from a health standpoint, affecting their mobility and creating early onset cognitive disorders.

*It’s important to note that this research was designed to identify trends in the growing senior homeless population and to quantify the potential price of hospitalization and nursing home stays on their behalf. What the study found extends well beyond that, though.

Researchers were shocked to learn that members of the unhoused community were exhibiting health conditions much younger than their housed counterparts. To quote Axios Washington D.C. directly, the following statement was made:

“Unhoused people in their 50s and 60s had health conditions more akin to housed people who were 20 years older.”

Based on the information, senior homelessness is an increasingly worsening dilemma. Homeless seniors are effectively older than their age from a health standpoint. Put simply, caring for a 60-year-old unhoused person requires the medical resources and supplies a healthcare professional would typically use to treat an 80-year-old person who has always been housed.

National Health Care for the Homeless Council observed that mobility and cognitive impairment declines were also occurring prematurely for people living without homes. This means that a person experiencing homelessness is likely to also experience all of the following ailments decades before their peers:

  • Trouble remembering
  • Difficulties retaining information
  • Struggling to concentrate, make decisions, or learn new things
  • Losing the ability to understand basic concepts
  • Severe instances of cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
  • Weak joints
  • Unsteadiness
  • Difficulty standing up from a sitting position
  • Stiffness and achiness
  • Neurological disorders and more

Because this study focused on adults in their 50s and above, it is difficult to say if younger homeless people are also aging more rapidly than their housed peers. What we know for certain is that cognitive impairment makes people three times more likely to be hospitalized. Mobility challenges create employment obstacles that can further perpetuate the vicious cycle of homelessness.

In the end, this is even more proof that homelessness is costing billions in healthcare expenses. Worse, it is costing people their lives and depriving them of their youth.

There’s Still Time to Contact Your Representatives

Many lives are being cut short as a result of the existence of homelessness. There is absolutely no upside to the crisis. Criminalizing poverty is needlessly draining our resources and overcrowding our for-profit prisons.

As the housing crisis deepens and inflation raises the tension, our homeless neighbors, many of them senior citizens, are rapidly deteriorating before our very eyes—their poor health results from poor policies and poor decisions made by politicians.

Fortunately, there’s still time left to turn things around. Talk to your local lawmakers today. Urge them to tackle the homeless and housing crisis, create more affordable homes, and make housing a human right for all.

Cynthia Griffith

Cynthia Griffith


Cynthia Griffith is a freelance writer dedicated to social justice and environmental issues.

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