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Meeting the Needs of LGBT Seniors With Dementia

This month, we celebrate Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month. This recognition takes place in June to mark the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising, an event that is symbolic of the ongoing battle for LGBT rights.

This year, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of that historic event, many members of that pioneering generation are facing the challenges of aging, and some are touched by memory loss. The Alzheimer’s Association and SAGE, an advocacy group for LGBT elders, recently released a report that sheds light on the needs of these elders, as well as their caregivers.

According to “Issue Brief: LGBT and Dementia,” LGBT elders with dementia face a number of challenges:

  • Even with today’s increased awareness and acceptance of LGBT rights, these seniors still face marginalization and discrimination.
  • They are twice as likely to age without a spouse or partner, and three to four times less likely to have children, which means they have fewer family members to help when they need care.
  • They are at higher risk of poverty in their senior years—often facing discrimination in the workplace, and until recently, unable to access the tax and insurance advantages and survivor benefits of marriage.
  • Seniors with HIV/AIDS-related cognitive impairment may face an even greater stigma.

LGBT elders are also less likely to reach out for services and support, fearing they’ll be treated poorly. They’re less likely to access visiting nurse services, senior centers, meal delivery and other food programs. The report says that many LGBT people in their 60s and 70s haven’t even told their healthcare providers about their sexual orientation! And, already dealing with discrimination in their lives, they fear the stigma of being diagnosed with dementia.

What can healthcare providers do to better meet the needs of these seniors and caregivers?

“Our findings highlight the need for culturally competent healthcare and practice for older sexual minorities at risk for, or currently living with, Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia,” said study author Jason Flatt, Ph.D., of University of California, San Francisco. “There are also important implications for meeting the long-term care services and caregiving needs of this community. Given the concerns of social isolation and limited access to friend and family caregivers, there is a strong need to create a supportive healthcare environment and caregiving resources for sexual minority adults living with dementia.”

The first thing healthcare providers can do is to expand their definition of family. According to the report, “many LGBT older adults may not have a relationship with their legal or biological families, and are instead supported by their families of choice.” In addition, caregivers are more likely to be age contemporaries of the person receiving care, perhaps dealing with their own health issues.

Providers are also advised to:

  • Educate themselves and their staff on LGBT cultural competency.
  • Find or create support groups specifically for LGBT people.
  • Partner with local LGBT community groups and political organizations.
  • Help LGBT people and their families with legal and financial planning.

“With the growing prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease dementia and the swelling population of LGBT older adults, we place a high priority on examining the intersections of Alzheimer’s disease, sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression,” said Alzheimer’s Association Director of Quality Care and Psychosocial Research Sam Fazio, Ph.D. “A more thorough and thoughtful understanding of this intersection will enable us to better meet the needs of LGBT elders living with dementia and their caregivers.”

To find much more information, read the entire Issue Brief: LGBT and Dementia here.

Read More About: Dementia and Alzheimer's
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