SAGE Advice for LGBT Seniors

Unique Needs of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transexual Elders

At SelectCare Home Care Service of NY, we understand that there is never a “one size fits all” solution to elder care, and a recent presentation discussing the unique needs of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transexual elders highlighted the importance of not only fulfilling the needs of this community, but understanding how decades of discrimination impact the aging LGBT community.

The presentation was organized by Tom Weber, director of care management service for SAGE (Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders), laid out some fascinating statistics on what it’s like to grow older as part of the LGBT community:

  • Among the national population, 40 percent of all seniors live alone. That number doubles for the LGBT communitySAGE
  • About 20 percent of America’s elder population does not have children. That number skyrockets to 90 percent among LGBT seniors
  • Approximately one in three seniors live alone, compared to three out of every four LGBT seniors

Weber explained that these factors can have serious, long-term consequences on the mental and physical health of LGBT seniors. With no adult children to assist them, many LGBT men and women depend on what Weber called “horizontal caregiving”, meaning that they depend on friends within their age group and social circle to provide assistance normally provided by younger family members. This system of horizontal caregiving can work for a time, but as the caregiver grows older and less capable of providing care, the quality of life dips dramatically for both parties.

Beyond the numbers, a long history of discrimination has also impacted how the LGBT community interacts with public institutions that the elderly community-at-large has always depended on:

Hospitals and Doctors – Many LGBT elders remember the discrimination and backwards medical policies adopted during the height of the AIDS epidemic and continue to fear that their sexuality will result in substandard health care. This fear can cause medical problems to go unaddressed and result in serious health concerns.

   Church and Community Organizations – Although many religious organizations are softening their stances on the LGBT community, many people recall hearing about or themselves were excommunicated or otherwise disowned by their religious institution because of their sexual preference. This results in further social isolation and anxiety around end-of-life issues.

Military and VA Programs – In earlier decades, homosexuality was considered grounds for a dishonorable discharge due to mental illness. As a result, many LGBT veterans have been denied the benefits they earned through their military service. Even now as the military works to integrate, many of these fears persist.

While many of these challenges persist, Weber was optimistic that society is turning the corner on how it treats the LGBT community. For their part, SAGE is doing some extraordinary work to break down many of the barriers faced by gay and lesbian older adults.

The SAGEVet program caters specifically to LGBT former service members and has succeeded in reversing numerous dishonorable discharges, allowing veterans to access medical, social and financial benefits they earned through their service to the country.

Meanwhile, SAGE also operates a “friendly visitor” program which, under the supervision of a social worker, pairs homebound and socially isolated LGBT seniors with volunteers who make weekly visits, and stay in touch throughout the week with phone calls.

FInally, SAGE operates a growing number of LGBT-focused senior centers throughout New York City, which help older adults foster a better sense of community, access additional services and make new friends who have shared similar life experiences.

While there is undoubtedly more work that needs to be done to address these challenges, we at SelectCare are proud to know that organizations like SAGE continue to fight to right these historical wrongs. If you or a loved one worry that their sexual preference might impact their care, or if you know anyone who you fear is missing out on vital services because of these concerns, we urge you to reach out to SAGE for assistance. Alternatively, you can consider calling SelectCare, where our staff of home health care experts have more than 30 years of experience serving older and homebound adults of all backgrounds.