31 may 2009 -- Living in unsafe neighborhoods -- or even believing that a neighborhood is unsafe -- can lead to disability among elderly, low-income people, suggests a new study.
"Our results suggest that dangerous neighborhoods get from the mind into the body and engender mobility disability through psychosocial or psychological processes," Dr. Cheryl Clark, of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, said in a news release from BioMed Central, which is publishing the study in its journal BMC Public Health.
The study included 1,884 people, age 65 and older, whose perceptions of danger were compared with levels of violent crime reported in their neighborhoods. The two matched up well, the study found, but it was the participants' sense that their neighborhood was unsafe that was most strongly associated with the development of a physical disability.
There may be a number of reasons for this, the researchers suggested. Lower-income seniors in unsafe neighborhoods might have fewer resources to cope with neighborhood stresses, and areas with high crime rates could have difficulty attracting businesses that provide products and services.
"Our findings underscore the importance of neighborhood safety to healthy aging," Clark said. "Specifically intervening to improve perceptions of neighborhood safety at retirement age may be an important step to reduce the risk of mobility disability among elders."