I am a 55-year-old daughter, mother, and caregiver. My parents are divorced; both of them are aging and need help. My father “came out” as a gay man at midlife. He has been estranged from our family, but now he is an older adult with multiple challenges and requires medical and social services. What concerns and caregiving issues could come up with my dad?
— K.S., Oakland
It sounds like you are committed to providing care and support for your father, which is fortunate and enriching for both of you. I’m sure there are many particulars of your father’s situation and I encourage you to contact geriatric care managers and others who can help you assess his needs and options as he ages.
In general, elders in the LGBT community share the same concerns as heterosexual elders, such as financial stability, access to affordable healthcare and maintaining independence. However, for LGBT older adults, added barriers often exacerbate health, financial and psychosocial issues related to aging.
According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, there are approximately 1.5 million LGBT elders in the United States; by 2030 that number is expected to double to 3 million. Researchers have only recently started looking at the particular needs of elderly LGBTs, including the first generation of survivors impacted by HIV/AIDS.
For heterosexual older adults, about 80 percent of long-term care is provided by informal caregivers, usually their children or spouse/partner. About 60 percent of these informal caregivers are women.
In contrast, LGBT older adults receive more caregiving support from friends rather than relatives, and a greater proportion of men are caregivers. LGBT people of this generation are frequently disconnected from their families of origin and are four times less likely than straight older adults to have children or grandchildren. This means that lesbian and gay seniors often rely on their partners or friends to fill a role that children typically take on for straight seniors. This can become difficult as one’s circle of friends face their own aging-related challenges over time.
While most elders of all sexual orientations prefer to continue living in their own homes as they age, LGBT elders sometimes face social isolation due to lower rates of assistance from partners and biological children.
Though societal attitudes are changing for the better, LGBT elders are still vulnerable to homophobic reactions from medical providers and others, diminishing their access to culturally competent health care and social services. LGBT older adults are less likely than heterosexual elders to access aging-network services and providers due to fear of discrimination. Some actually return to “the closet” as they age, which can prevent them from receiving appropriate services.
They might also face mistaken assumptions of heterosexuality in social and residential situations, and there are many reports of people feeling marginalized in long-term care facilities. The combination of discrimination, social isolation and lack of appropriate care and services contributes to many problems: depression, substance abuse, preventable health crises and hospitalizations, and premature mortality.
The good news is that there are an increasing number of care providers and agencies that are qualified, inclusive, sensitive and understanding of the unique needs that your dad and other LGBT older adults face as they age. In addition to general community resources such as the American Society on Aging (www.asaging.org) and Family Caregiver Alliance (www.caregiver.org), there are LGBT-specific resources such as the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging (www.lgbtagingcenter.org) and SAGE (www.SAGEUSA.org). Here in the East Bay, we are fortunate to have community resources such as Lavender Seniors (www.LavenderSeniors.org) in Alameda County and the Rainbow Community Center (www.RainbowCC.org) in Contra Costa County.
I hope your father enjoys many more years of health and enjoyment of life, and that you also derive joy and fulfillment from caring for him, getting the support you need to sustain yourself in the process.