EVANSTON, III — Taking a significant financial loss is a stressful experience for people of any age, but it may be especially taxing on older adults. A new study finds that an unexpected blow to one’s nest egg in middle or older age can take a vicious toll on overall health and dramatically raises their risk of an early death.
Researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Michigan say that a person is 50 percent more likely to die within 20 years if they’ve lost 75 percent or more of their total wealth over a two-year period.
The authors looked at data on more than 8,000 adults over 50 who participated in a longitudinal study conducted by the National Institute of Aging. Data was collected beginning in 1992 and every two years thereafter for 20 years. Researchers found that participants consistently lost savings during the study period and discovered a correlation between dying and major financial loss.
“We found losing your life-savings has a profound effect on person’s long-term health,” says lead author Lindsay Pool, a research assistant professor of preventive medicine, in a university media release. “It’s a very pervasive issue. It wasn’t just a few individuals but more than 25 percent of Americans had a wealth shock over the 20 years of the study.”
Pool explains that the stress from losing money isn’t the only reason one’s health decline. There’s also the simple inability to take care of oneself. “These people suffer a mental health toll because of the financial loss as well as pulling back from medical care because they can’t afford it,” she says.
Researchers also compared data from a group of low-income individuals who had no accumulated wealth during the study period. Those participants showed a 67 percent greater risk of death within 20 years.
“The most surprising finding was that having wealth and losing it is almost as bad for your life expectancy as never having wealth,” says Pool.
The study, which will be published April 3 in JAMA, is the first to look at the long-term effects of a large financial loss.
Pool believes physicians should be more in tune with their patients’ financial situations in order to better assess potential health dangers. “It’s something they need to ask about to understand if their patients may be at an increased health risk,” she says.
The full study, which was the first to examine the long-term effects on one’s health after a major financial, was published April 3, 2018 in the journal JAMA.