Caring for LGBT Seniors

Quality Care Hampered Because of Social Isolation, Poor Health Outcomes

Compassionate Eye Foundation/Chris Newton/OJO Images Ltd

The number of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals over the age of 65 is expected to double over the next few decades. This population is no different in terms of the quality of care they will need as they age. Yet policies for LGBT seniors is hampered because of social isolation, poor health outcomes, unequal treatment under the law and diminished economic security. Let's find out what we can do to take better care of LGBT seniors.

The National Academy on an Aging Society and SAGE reports that these barriers are associated with poor mental and physical health, cognitive impairment, chronic illness and premature death.

Finding a gay-friendly retirement or senior community, a handful of new senior developments are marketed specifically to gays and lesbians. Things are changing however as this issue has caught some serious attention particularly in today's society where cultural issues seem to be a daily news item.

There are currently about a dozen seniors-only housing developments that are marketed specifically to gays and lesbians. Experts expect the trend to continue. The first gay continuing care retirement community for gays and lesbians opened in 2011 in California.

An Eden Alternative registered facility in Oakland, Calif., has launched a research-based LINK cultural sensitivity initiative targeting the needs of LGBT elders receiving skilled nursing and long-term care.

Salem Lutheran Home partnered with Lavender Seniors of the East Bay and the Center for Elders’ Independence developed a needs assessment and cultural sensitivity training program to improve services and care for LGBT elders.

The project — Growing an LGBT Senior Service Community — revealed positive results for LGBT seniors.

One in five gay and lesbian boomers reports being unsure of who will take care of them if they get sick, according to the MetLife Mature Market Institute study.

This group does have an advocate in SAGE, the country's largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBT older adults. SAGE has pioneered programs and services for the aging LGBT community, provided technical assistance and training to expand opportunities for LGBT older people across the country, and provided a national voice on LGBT aging issues.

According to SAGE, “The tendency for LGBT older adults to go "back in the closet" is particularly pronounced in situations where they are most vulnerable. One study indicated that LGBT older adults may be as much as five times less likely to access needed health and social services because of their fear of discrimination from the very people who should be helping them. This type of social isolation has an enormous impact in the health and well-being of LGBT older adults.

With LGBT older adults twice as likely to live alone than heterosexual older adults, more than four times as likely to have no children, the informal caregiving support we assume is in place for older adults may not be there for LGBT elders.”

With programs like SAGE, a growing awareness of this issue, open-mindedness and formal training let’s hope this community stays out of the closet and receives the needed services any elder deserves. The industry will not be truly person-centered until all elders are treated equally. First we must educate the public then foster empathy around the topic.

Continue Reading