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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 9, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 41
LGBT seniors at risk, study says
Tom Rasmussen asks for City funding to train caregivers
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LGBT seniors at risk, study says
Tom Rasmussen asks for City funding to train caregivers

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Seattle City Council member Tom Rasmussen has proposed $75,000 in funding to help train service providers to care for LGBT seniors.

Rasmussen made the proposal at an October 6 Budget Committee meeting which coincided with the release of a new study on LGBT seniors by Karen Fredriksen-Goldsen, based at the UW School of Social Work.

Titled 'At Risk and Underserved: LGBTQ Older Adults in Seattle/King County,' the study details 'widespread social and health disparities experienced by LGBTQ older adults in Seattle and King County.'

The money proposed by Rasmussen would support a pilot program to train 100 practitioners in culturally competent care for LGBT seniors, and would be matched by in-kind contributions by Caring and Aging with Pride.

Caring and Aging with Pride is sponsoring a national survey on LGBT seniors, of which Fredriksen-Goldsen's study is a part.

Rasmussen explained the pilot program's goals by analogy to 'parent parenting,' the increasingly common phenomenon in which adult children now care for their aging parents.

'Being a caregiver is extremely difficult,' Rasmussen said.

'The big challenges for anyone are to gain trust and confidence. It can be very, very difficult to win that trust, even if you are a son or daughter. It does take training, and that is what this program will do.'

Fredriksen-Goldsen's local study surveyed 203 LGBT people aged 50 to 85 in Seattle and King County. The national project will involve 2,400 LGBT adults in total, aged 50 to 99. Launched in 2010, the project is the first ongoing nationwide longitudinal study examining the health and well-being of LGBT aging adults.

The number of LGBT seniors in Seattle and King County is expected to double by 2030, and they face higher risks of disability, poor health, mental distress, and isolation, the study found, along with a social service sector unequipped to deal with their needs.

Among other problems facing LGBT seniors, the study found that:

o More than two-thirds of study participants have experienced three or more incidents of victimization in their lifetimes. Almost 70% had been verbally assaulted and 40% were threatened with physical violence.

o More than one in five participants visited the emergency room in the previous year.

o Although the majority of participants are college graduates, nearly one-quarter were living below 200% of the federal poverty level (incomes of less than $23,540).

o Participants were at high risk of social isolation, with more than 45% living alone.

o Most human service providers lack adequate training to serve LGBTQ older adults. Some 16% of participants reported being denied services or given inferior care based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

o One in six participants was fearful of obtaining services outside the LGBTQ community.

One of the main barriers facing LGBT seniors is the lack of culturally competent service providers, Fredriksen-Goldsen said.

'Many providers lack the communication skills to talk with LGBTQ older adults about their lives,' she said. 'For example, if a transgender older adult needs nursing home care, the staff often has no idea how to treat the person respectfully and ensure appropriate care.

'So LGBTQ older adults are often reluctant to seek services and may be forced back into the closet, because they don't know if they're going to have culturally appropriate providers.'

While awareness about LGBT people has increased dramatically among the general population, Fredriksen-Goldsen said the older members of that population remain largely invisible.

'People don't think they exist,' she said. 'When they think of LGBTQ people, they think of young people. What we often hear from providers is, 'I really want to help support those people, but we don't have any of them here.'

On the other hand, the survey also found many positive features. For example, many LGBT seniors have developed supportive communities, and 90% said they were satisfied with their lives. The majority exercised regularly, and nearly half attended religious services or participated in spiritual activities.

While Seattle is known as one of the most LGBT-friendly cities in the country, Fredriksen-Goldsen said it is surprisingly lacking in services for aging LGBT people. She welcomed Rasmussen's proposal to fund training for care givers.

'As Seattle and King County's population ages and becomes increasingly diverse, there is a growing need for providers who are trained to work with LGBTQ older adults,' she said. 'This initiative is an important first step in helping to address that need.'

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