Low-income older adults more likely to develop heart failure

The odds of having heart failure appear to be higher in seniors with low income, regardless of their education level, according to research presented this week at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2011. The study is the first to link low income with an increased risk of heart failure in Medicare-eligible community-dwelling older men and women.

Researchers reviewed National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute records of 5,153 Medicare-eligible older adults without heart failure in the Cardiovascular Health Study who lived independently in four U.S. communities in the early 1990s. They separated patients into groups based on education and income levels. Researchers defined low education as less than college level, and low income as household income less than $25,000 a year.

After 13 years, the researchers found 18 percent of older adults with high education and high income developed heart failure, compared to 23 percent of older adults with low income and regardless of education level. When considering older adults with both low income and low education level, that rate jumped to 29 percent.

Researchers said low-income seniors may be unable to pay out-of-pocket costs related to healthcare that Medicare provides.

“They may have to choose between their drugs and their groceries,” said Ahmed, director of the Geriatric Heart Failure Clinics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the Birmingham VA Medical Center. “Or the out-of-pocket expenses might adversely affect how often they go see their doctor.”

A person’s income also impacts access to healthy foods and safe, affordable places for physical activity, according to researchers. The study findings highlight the need to explore low-cost ways to promote healthy lifestyles, particularly access to good nutrition and exercise, Ahmed said.

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