Even in the era of “marriage equality” and social gains for the LGBT community, the experience of discrimination makes many people distrustful of the senior care system and reluctant to seek out services they desperately need. This can lead many LGBT elders to isolation and depression.
According to a recent study commissioned by SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders), designed to measure attitudes and concerns that affect LGBT elders, there are key areas of concern for this growing community.
One that stands out is anxiety about healthcare, with many LGBT elders expressing a “fear of judgment and inferior care from health care providers.” This unfortunately leaves a large number of people hiding their sexual orientation or gender identity to providers.
Another concern is the loss of a supportive community. As they age, many LGBT adults have seen support systems shrink, forcing them to live alone and in fear of discrimination from housing and long-term care communities.
New Legislation and Initiatives
2.4 million adults age 50 and older identify as LGBT. With the baby boomer generation becoming elders in the coming decades, the number of self-identified LGBT elders is expected to double by 2030.
So how can we as a country become more aware of the unique issues facing this growing population and help resolve them?
Over the past few years, we are finally seeing health care providers and government officials beginning to address the problem.
In 2015, California enacted “legislation to develop standards and provide LGBT cultural competency for medical providers. The law works to ensure that physicians and surgeons receive continuing medical education to increase cultural competency in their work with LGBT patients, and hopefully with their partners and families as well.”
In addition to younger LGBT adults, advocacy and expert resources are now available online and in person for the LGBT elderly. Openhouse in the San Francisco area, and Lavender Senior online, are community providers serving this emerging LGBT community.
In Connecticut, a new initiative called LGBT Aging Advocacy was formed to raise awareness of differences and the unique needs of the aging LGBT community. Organized in August 2013, the initiative has made significant progress over the past few years.
This initiative is collaboration at its finest; community members, service providers and Connecticut state agencies all came together to make it happen. It’s a great example and model for other LGBT communities.
More Legal Help for Caregivers
A caregiver is perhaps the most important person in an aging LGBT person’s life. In 2011, the government changed its guidelines which outline who a person can designate as “family” when it comes to care and medical decisions, strengthening the rights of patients everywhere.
Many in the aging LGBT community have lack of support from their biological families. To fill this gap, some have formed “families of choice,” support systems built with trusted friends, partners and supportive community service providers.
Typically, unpaid caregivers in the general aging community are spouses, adult children or other family members. Because many in the aging LGBT community are likely to be alone as they age, a family of choice may provide the needed care and support.
The new guidelines say that a patient has the right to designate the person (including same sex partners) who will make medical decisions on their behalf in the case of an emergency.
To learn more, or for additional resources on LGBT elderly care in your community, go to The National Resource Center on LGBT Aging.
For additional information and support, visit Seniorly for some great information on aging communities designed specifically for the LGBT community.