Being homeless dramatically accelerates ageing, a study suggests.
Scientists found that study participants with no permanent home suffered conditions and disabilities normally experienced by people decades older.
Members of the group were typically aged in their fifties. Yet they had more trouble bathing, dressing and eating than 80-year-olds who had a home.
They also had higher rates of mental and visual impairment and urinary incontinence, and were were more likely to suffer falls or be depressed.
The US researchers are following the progress of 350 homeless people aged 50 and over in Oakland, California.
The investigation showed that homeless middle-aged people had a tough time using public transport, taking medications, managing money, applying for benefits, seeking jobs, and finding a lawyer.
About 40% of the group reported difficulty with one or more activities of daily living, while a third claimed to have suffered a fall in the past six months.
Roughly a quarter were mentally challenged, 45% had poor vision, and 48% were unable to control their bladders.
Nearly half experienced their first episode of adult homelessness at age of 50 or older. The health status of most was described as “poor” or “fair” and chronic medical conditions such as high blood pressure were common.
Almost 75% had a history of mental health problems, two thirds smoked tobacco, and more than half had lifelong problems with alcohol or drug use.
Three quarters were male, and 80% were African Americans.
Today half of single homeless adults in the US are at least 50 years old compared with just 11% in 1990, said the researchers, whose findings appear in The Gerontologist journal.
Senior author Professor Margot Kushel, also from UCSF, called for permanent supportive housing adapted to meet the needs of an ageing homeless population.
She said: “We need to figure this out, otherwise many homeless people will be placed in nursing homes, for lack of an alternative, even though they would be better off living in less restrictive, and less expensive, environments.”