Chronic disease has financial consequences for older adults, but it is unclear how this varies between conditions with different disease trajectories. The aim of this study was to review evidence on the financial burden associated with cancer, heart failure or stroke in older people, to identify those most at risk of financial adversity. We systematically searched nine databases for studies with data on the illness-related financial burden (objective), or on the perception of financial hardship (subjective), of older patients and/or their informal caregivers in high-income countries. We identified thirty-eight papers published in English between 1984 and 2012. Studies fell into three categories: those reporting direct, out of pocket, costs (medical and/or non-medical); studies of the indirect costs associated with illness (such as wage or income loss); and papers reporting general financial or economic burdens secondary to illness. Three out of four studies focused on people with cancer. More affluent people had greater out of pocket costs, but were less financially burdened by illness, compared with older adults from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Disadvantaged patients and families were more likely to report experiences of financial hardship, and spend a higher proportion of their income on all expenses related to their diagnoses. This review illustrates how little is known about the financial adversity experienced by patients with some common chronic conditions. It raises the possibility that higher expenditure by more affluent older people may be creating inequalities in how chronic illness is experienced. The development of effective strategies for financial protection at older ages will require more information on who is affected and at which point in their illness trajectory.
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