History of Incarceration and Its Association With Geriatric and Chronic Health Outcomes in Older Adulthood

JAMA Netw Open. 2023 Jan 3;6(1):e2249785. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.49785.


Importance: Although incarcerated older adults experience higher rates of chronic disease and geriatric syndromes, it is unknown whether community-dwelling older adults with a history of incarceration are also at risk for worse health outcomes.

Objective: To evaluate the association between a history of incarceration and health outcomes, including chronic health conditions and geriatric syndromes, in older age.

Design, setting, and participants: This cross-sectional study using population-based data from the nationally representative Health and Retirement Study included US community-dwelling adults aged 50 years or older who completed the 2012 or 2014 survey waves assessing self-reported history of incarceration. Statistical analysis was completed from December 2021 to July 2022.

Exposures: Self-reported history of incarceration.

Main outcomes and measures: Geriatric health outcomes included cognitive impairment, mobility impairment, vision impairment, hearing impairment, urinary incontinence, and impairment of activities of daily living (ADLs). Chronic health outcomes included high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic lung disease, heart disease, stroke, mental health conditions, heavy alcohol use, and self-reported health. Survey weights were applied to adjust for the survey design.

Results: Among 13 462 participants, 946 (7.6%) had experienced incarceration (mean [SD] age, 62.4 [7.8] years); compared with 12 516 people with no prior incarceration (mean [SD] age, 66.7 [10.0] years), previously incarcerated adults were more likely to be male (83.0% vs 42.8%; P < .001) and in the lowest quartile of wealth (44.1% vs 21.4%; overall P < .001). After adjusting for age, sex, race and ethnicity, wealth, educational attainment, and uninsured status, a history of incarceration was associated with a 20% to 80% increased risk of all geriatric syndromes evaluated, including impairment of ADLs (relative risk [RR], 1.62; 95% CI, 1.40-1.88) and hearing impairment (RR, 1.22; 95% CI, 1.04-1.44). Incarceration was also associated with increased risk of some chronic diseases, including chronic lung disease (RR, 1.56; 95% CI, 1.27-1.91), mental health conditions (RR, 1.80; 95% CI, 1.55-2.08), and heavy alcohol use (RR, 2.13; 95% CI, 1.59-2.84). Prior incarceration was not associated with diabetes or cardiovascular conditions.

Conclusions and relevance: In this study, at least 1 in 15 older US adults reported a history of incarceration in their lifetime. Past incarceration was associated with many chronic diseases and geriatric syndromes even after accounting for socioeconomic status. These findings suggest that attention to incarceration history may be an important consideration in understanding and mitigating health risks in older age.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diabetes Mellitus*
  • Female
  • Geriatric Assessment
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care