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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 30, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 40
UW professor, Karen Fredriksen-Goldsen, addresses LGBTQ aging in keynote speech at recent conference
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UW professor, Karen Fredriksen-Goldsen, addresses LGBTQ aging in keynote speech at recent conference

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) older adults experience different challenges to their health and well-being depending on age group, said Karen Fredriksen-Goldsen, expert on aging in minority populations, in a keynote speech at the fifth annual Elder Friendly Futures Conference, September 15-16.

Fredriksen-Goldsen is a University of Washington professor specializing in the aging, health and well-being in historically marginalized populations. She is the principal investigator of Aging with Pride: National Health, Aging, Sexuality and Gender Study, the first national longitudinal study of LGBTQ midlife and older adults, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health and National Institute on Aging. Her keynote address took place Sept. 15 at the Lynnwood Convention Center.

LGBTQ older adults face disparities in health and well-being compared to their heterosexual peers, including higher rates of disability and mental distress. Lesbians and bisexual women have higher rates of cardiovascular disease and obesity, and gay and bisexual men have higher risk of poor physical health and living alone compared to heterosexuals of similar age. While they are an at-risk community due to the adversity they have encountered, they are resilient and most are aging well.

Further attention to disparities within this population is needed, Fredriksen-Goldsen said. 'We want to look at interacting social dimensions to understand aging in these communities,' she said, speaking to an audience of healthcare providers, researchers, and community professionals. 'LGBTQ older adults are within every community, and they are diverse.' She also noted we need to better understand how and why many of these older adults are aging well, and what risk and protective factors influence their aging, health and well-being over time.

Using a health equity framework she and colleagues recently developed, she described three LGBTQ older adult generations, each of which is associated with differing configurations of risks and resources. 'We want to understand how health, via equity, is linked to opportunities and challenges,' she said.

The oldest group, which Fredriksen-Goldsen identified as the Invisible Generation, came of age when sexual orientation and gender identity were not discussed. The Silent Generation grew up when LGBTQ people were besieged with negative public sentiment, including a presidential order to fire all gay and lesbian federal employees. The Pride Generation grew up amid activism and social change, including Stonewall and other civil rights movements. Her research finds that members of the Invisible and Silent Generations experience higher internal stigma but lower rates of direct discrimination and victimization, likely because they tend not to disclose their sexual or gender minority identities, which may protect them from discrimination but offers fewer opportunities for social connection and results in smaller social networks; they are at the greatest risk of social isolation. Members of the Pride Generation are more comfortable with disclosing their identities but are more likely to experience on-going victimization and discrimination. She explained, 'We find that many in the Pride Generation experience high rates of discrimination and victimization, which is one of the strongest predictors of poor health. Because of these different patterns of risk, health disparities are common across all three generations, yet they are a highly resilient population and despite the risks they face, most are aging well.' The participants in this national study range in age from 50 to over 100 years old.

Identity disclosure to healthcare professionals is important for addressing particular health issues, and LGBTQ older adults as a whole are becoming more willing to disclose over time. Rates of refusal to disclose sexual identity on Washington state public health surveys have decreased for older adults from 4.07 percent in 2003 to 1.55 percent in 2010.

'LGBTQ older adults are very diverse in terms of their multiple identities and this needs to be considered in order to understand their aging,' said Fredriksen-Goldsen. 'It's so important to think about and understand their needs.' She emphasized the importance of training healthcare professionals in interacting with LGBTQ adults sensitively and positively, noting that negative reactions decrease future disclosure and result in further marginalization.

Engaging and working directly in communities is a significant part of Fredriksen-Goldsen's research. 'The community-based collaboration was critical,' she said.

Based on these research findings, a new Seattle-based non-profit organization, Generations with Pride, has been developed and offers safe-space trainings for healthcare and aging providers, addressing particular needs and the diversity of LGBTQ older adults. The organization also offers programming and social and cultural opportunities for LGBTQ midlife and older adults and their families. Fredriksen-Goldsen called for evidence-based programs and policies and interventions targeted to the needs of LGBTQ older adults, with specific attention to diverse groups in these communities, including the unique needs of transgender and bisexual older adults and LGBTQ older adults of color. Dr. Fredriksen-Goldsen was recently named as one of the top 50 Influencers in Aging by PBS's 'Next Avenue.'

For more information, contact Fredriksen-Goldsen at (800) 558-8703 or AgePride@uw.edu. Her research can be found at http://caringandaging.org/wordpress/published-articles.

Courtesy of Aging with Pride: National Health, Aging, Sexuality and Gender Study - University of Washington

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