As people near retirement age, they often start to consider their options for life after work. But members of the LGBTQIA+ community may need some extra considerations.
Living Considerations for LGBTQIA+ Seniors
Though there is no census data on sexual orientation, research estimates that there are about 3 million people in the LGBTQIA+ community over the age of 55. With that number expected to grow to 7 million by 2030, it is important to understand the needs of LGBTQIA+ seniors.
For many older adults, it’s easiest to rely on family members or significant others to help in the aging process. But a report by SAGE, an advocacy organization for LGBTQIA+ older adults, found that LGBTQIA+ seniors are twice as likely to live alone compared to their heterosexual counterparts.
In addition, LGBTQIA+ individuals are four times less likely to have children, which can make the process of finding senior care from a relative more difficult. SAGE reports that 54% of LGBTQIA+ seniors receive their caregiving from their partner, while only 24% receive caregiving from a friend.
Access to affordable senior housing is also a barrier for many LGBTQIA+ older adults. Many report experiencing discrimination from property managers, staff, other residents, and service providers. Nearly a quarter of the transgender community reported experiencing some form of housing discrimination in the past year. And 34% of LGBTQIA+ seniors fear they may have to hide their identity to access senior housing.
When researching retirement communities, look for the SAGE stamp of approval, which signifies an LGBTQIA+ friendly property. Members of the LGBTQIA+ community say that being transparent and honest with health care providers and caregivers has made their experience of assisted living far more pleasant.
LGBTQIA+ Discrimination in Health Care
Discrimination is a huge obstacle to health care for the LGBTQIA+ community. Although today’s society is more open about sexual orientation and inclusion, there is a long-standing history of disconnection between medical providers and their LGBTQIA+ patients. This may have led patients to withhold important information from their doctors and to doctors not knowing how their patient’s identity has played into their health care.
You cannot overstate how important it is to have honest conversations with your doctors so they can understand the full scope of your health.
Health Conditions in the LGBTQIA+ Community
All aging populations face similar ailments, but understanding the differences in communities can prove crucial for quality health care. In addition to the regular age-related health issues, LGBTQIA+ people also have other health care considerations.
SAGE reports that more than 50% of all Americans living with HIV are over the age of 50. Studies show that a person living with HIV has a similar life expectancy to an HIV-negative person — provided they get their diagnosis in good time, have good access to medical care, and can adhere to their HIV treatment.
Alzheimer’s and dementia
Aging populations also have a high risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. These conditions pose a greater risk to members of the LGBTQIA+ community because they experience higher levels of isolation and stigmatization. A SAGE report found that over one-third of LGBTQIA+ individuals live alone and have noticed their support network shrinking.
Cancer treatment is another area where the unique needs of the LGBTQIA+ community are just now being understood. There is a growing body of work addressing this community’s specific concerns about cancer prevention and treatment, but until recently, the field of palliative care and hospice had not established best practices for LGBTQIA+ end-of-life care. More research is necessary on LGBTQIA+ patient-provider communication in palliative and hospice settings and on how care shapes better and worse patient outcomes.
Transitions of care
Whether due to disease or aging, the dying process brings with it a range of services. These services require a series of transitions that occur on the personal, family, and systems levels as patients move through care settings.
As LGBTQIA+ patients transition across different treatment settings and providers, they may worry about whether they will receive open, safe, and affirming communication with their providers or face awkward or discriminatory interactions. This concern is critical because delivering compassionate care depends on meaningful communication among all parties regarding the patient’s sense of self, identity, hopes, fears, and wishes, and their core values.
The transition to bereavement and after-care services represents another opportunity to support partners, spouses, family members, and friends as they process their grief and come to terms with this complex life event.
Finding the Right Place
Feeling part of a larger community and being accepted are important to all seniors, but particularly those who have faced marginalization in other settings. That is why finding the senior community that is right for you — even before you start to need care — is so important.
Senior members of the LGBTQIA+ community have lived through uncertain times and experienced discrimination in many arenas. Today, there is a more understanding and accepting society and medical field, but there is still much progress to make.
As the numbers of aging LGBTQIA+ baby boomers continue to grow, housing developers and builders are recognizing the unmet need for inclusive housing and long-term care settings. But many senior communities are already trained in the needs of LGBTQIA+ seniors, and organizations like SAGE have made it easier to get connected with these facilities.
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