The LGBTQ+ Community and Aging: Special Considerations and Resources
Amazingly enough, even LGBT folks are subject to the natural forces of aging. Yes, we still stay just as fabulous but may need more support and care as we age, just as any heterosexual older person does. In all seriousness, however, our health care needs are systematically not being met as well as our straight counterparts due to many who don’t feel comfortable talking to their health care providers about their needs. Many baby boomers fear discrimination and harassment from providers as they age. Health disparities present in younger LGBT folks become even greater in our elders. Historically, the specific needs of LGBT elders have not been met as well as they could have been. Luckily, that is changing significantly as the baby boomers start to make their way into retirement communities, assisted living, and aging in place opportunities.
Older adults vary widely in terms of abilities and needs, and 65 year-olds are very different from 85 year-olds. A wide range of requirements in health care is present for LGBT Americans just as for others, and speaking about health care of “the older adult” can refer to an extremely diverse group of needs.
A growing number of residential care providers cater to the LGBT community with many locations around the country. As with other older age options, however, there are significant differences for options across the socioeconomic range. Communities such as Fountain Grove Lodge and Birds of a Feather provide opportunities for LGBT and allied friends to age together. Fountain Grove, in Santa Rosa, CA, is thought to be the very first continuing care facility in the United States. An affordable care option exists in the Bay Area for LGBT seniors. 55 Laguna is scheduled to open in late 2015.
Those LGBT seniors who do not (or cannot) choose a facility or community specifically oriented to them must be protected from discrimination, harassment, and abuse in mainstream facilities. Nursing homes must adhere to guidelines regarding discrimination and harassment. Regulations can be found in the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations- Part 483 Requirements for States and Long Term Care Facilities (483.10 Residents’ Rights). All LGBT seniors deserve the utmost of respect at the end of their lives, regardless of ability to pay.
Aging in Place
Increasingly, our country relies on in-home health care as many seniors choose to stay in their homes and “age in place.” Home health aides must have thorough education on LGBT issues so that they can meet the needs of LGBT elders and understand their complex and specific health care needs.
Old age is among the most vulnerable times of our life, with our care increasingly dependent on the training and tolerance of those who care for us, many of whom may be strangers. As the award-winning film Gen Silent asks, when someone is bringing a spoon to your lips because you are unable, and at the same time berating you for your “lifestyle” choices, where does that leave you in terms of emotional and physical safety? It is unacceptable that our LGBT “pioneers” would end up treated poorly because of misperception or abusive staff.
Sexuality and Aging
A benefit of the new greater understanding of continued sexuality in old age that has started to emerge is a greater acceptance of sexuality among LGBT elders as well. However, sexual activity and desire among the elderly is still an area where more research and sensitivity is required. There is virtually no research currently about same-sex sexual activity in the nursing home elderly. Training for health care providers should include sexuality into old age, and the increase in HIV among this age group as well.
Our groundbreaking LGBT elders deserve the best care that can be provided them. They should be free from discrimination and have the right to care providers either in-home or in facilities who will understand their specific needs and will be sensitive to their lives and families. After all, we owe our rights to them.
Are you or an elder that you love in need of resources? Here are a few to get you started: