Facing Statistical Realities: What Is the Health Status of LGBT Elders?

Article excerpt

The first national project funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Aging to address the health and wellbeing of LGBT older adults and caregivers is "Caring and Aging with Pride." Across the nation, 2,560 LGBT adults ranging in age from 50 to 95 years old participated in the study.

Many think that LGBT elders will not take part in this type of research. But the fact is, they want to participate and create a lasting legacy for the future. There was an overwhelming response to the project.

Perhaps the willingness to participate stems from need, as all study participants report a desire for many programs to meet their increasing needs. Two-thirds of the LGBT older adults report the need for senior housing, social events and transportation, and more than half indicate a need for legal services, assisted living, support groups and referral services.

Healthcare Worries

Access to healthcare also is important to the study's participants, but 15% fear receiving health services outside the LGBT community and 8% fear receiving health services within the community. Transgender older adults more often fear receiving health services both outside (40%) and within (12%) the LGBT community.

Among transgender older adults, 22% need to see a doctor but can't because it's cost prohibitive. More than three-quarters of LGBT older adults report their general health as good, however nearly one-half have a disability and nearly onethird report depression. As important risk factors impacting health, two-thirds experience verbal harassment and 40% report physical violence.

But LGBT elders are resilient, displaying protective factors that support good health. The majority engage in wellness activities (91%) and feel positive about belonging to LGBT communities (88%). Thirty-eight percent attend spiritual or religious activities each month.

The Caregiving Piece

With the exception of HIV care, informal caregiving of chronically ill LGBT adults has received limited attention in caregiving literature. Yet this study suggests that LGBT adults have extensive caregiving responsibilities: 27% of LGBT older adults are providing caregiving to partners and friends; and 16% receive assistance, most often from a friend (23%) or partner (54%), because of a disability or serious health condition.

Although biological family members are generally assumed to act as informal caregivers, partners, friends and chosen family play this role for LGBT older adults. While women generally provide the majority of caregiving, this is not reflected in LGBT communities, where both women and men have extensive care responsibilities.

Because of their history of marginalization and invisibility, chronically ill LGBT older adults and their caregivers may encounter obstacles in receiving and providing care, including discrimination in health services, lack of traditional sources of support, limited access to supportive services and lack of legal protection for loved ones.

Among those needing caregiving, about 49% reported poor health, and about 46% had clinical levels of depression. …