by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
A new study from the University of Washington's School of Social Work released some startling news this week: LGBT seniors and baby boomers (a group whose numbers are expected to be more than 4 million by 2030) have greater rates of disability, depression, and loneliness compared with heterosexuals of similar ages.
The study, 'The Aging and Health Report: Disparities and Resilience among LGBT Older Adults,' surveyed 2,560 LGBT adults aged 50-95 across the United States, also highlighted the unique needs of this aging group - including fear of discrimination, the lack of children to depend on as caregivers, and less social support and financial security with age, as older LGBT adults are less likely to be partnered or married.
Karen I. Fredriksen-Goldsen, Ph.D., one of the study's lead authors, reported, 'Aging and health needs of LGBT older adults are rarely addressed in services, policies, or research, even though diversity is a defining feature of our global aging population.'
'Although there have been tremendous gains in health during the last century, many historically disadvantaged groups within our aging population continue to experience higher levels of illness, disability, and premature death,' summarized Fredriksen-Goldsen.
It is imperative to understand our diverse population of LGBT older adults in order to ensure a healthier aging population in the years to come, she said. 'Health disparities must be eliminated to effectively respond to the aging crisis on the LGBT communities.'
Some of the report's key findings are:
o Nearly one-half have a disability and nearly one-third report mental distress.
o Most LGBT older adults engage in wellness activities (91%).
o Almost two-thirds have been victimized three or more times.
o Thirteen percent have been denied health care or received inferior care.
o More than 20% do not disclose their sexual or gender identity to their physician.
o About one-third do not have a will or durable power of attorney for health care.
According to the study, needed services include senior housing, transportation, lega
l services, and social events.
One of the respondents to the study, a 66-year-old Lesbian, reported, 'Isolation, finding friend support, caregiving, and health are the biggest issues older Gay persons face. Who will be there for us, who will help care for us without judgment?'
Another respondent, a 56-year-old Transgender woman, said, 'I have had an overwhelmingly positive experience with my gender transition so far, but I would say that my primary concern about the future is with access to health care and potential discrimination as a senior Transgender person, especially if the need arises for emergency or long-term care.'
The study found that, while family members related by blood or marriage plays a primary role in the support of older adults in the general population, most LGBT older adults care for one another.
According to the study's authors, experiences of discrimination are linked with poor health outcomes - such as depression - among both chronically ill LGBT older adults and their informal caregivers. Nearly four out of 10 LGBT older adult participants contemplated suicide at some point during their lives. In addition, they found that racial and ethnic minority LGBT older adults experience heightened and cumulative risks of aging and health disparities, as do LGBT older adults with incomes at or below 200% of the federal poverty level and those with a high school education or less.
The study also found a link between LGBT older adults and HIV.
'In our project, we found that nine percent of LGBT older adult participants overall are living with HIV, yet more than one in five Bisexual older men and nearly one in seven Gay older men have HIV,' read the report. 'These statistics are especially alarming given that by 2015, it is projected that half of the more than 1.1 million Americans living with HIV will be age 50 or older.'
As far as services are concerned, the report's authors say it is important to note that while services and programs assisting older adults are readily available in many communities, they are most often geared toward the general population and fail to take into account the unique circumstances facing LGBT older adults - such as fear of discrimination and, often, the lack of children to help them.
Most existing aging services, public policies, and research initiatives that are intended to support older adults in times of need are inaccessible to LGBT older adults and their loved ones. 'Same-sex partners do not have access to federal family leave benefits, equivalent Medicaid spend-downs, Social Security benefits, bereavement leave, or automatic inheritance of jointly owned real estate and personal property,' said the report.
'The term 'LGBT' is often used in research, yet the findings from this project illuminate that LGBT older adults are in fact distinct groups, often with unique needs and experiences,' summarized the report. 'We must address the mounting needs of our increasingly older and diverse society. LGBT older adult participants in 'Caring and Aging with Pride' represent the past and the future, as they create a legacy for generations to come.'
Perhaps one of the participants, a 63-year-old Gay man, captured the crux of what this study was after: 'The LGBT community has stepped up in the past to address coming out, AIDS, and civil rights. The next wave has to be aging.'
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