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LGBT Elders and Their Caregivers

LGBT Caregiver and geriatric care managementWe all know that Boomers – who began reaching age 65 just two years ago – are the largest segment of the U.S. population. Aging boomers are expected to total about 71.5 million by the year 2030, but what you may not know is that as many as one in ten of the Silver Tsunami will be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). This is important, because the generations that preceded them who were LGBT simply accommodated the “closet” when they aged. Never mind the ageism and racism we still find in some quarters, a lot of the institutional providers for seniors may not yet have embraced a welcoming culture for people of alternative gender preferences.
As a geriatric care manager, I see this as a perfect storm with three fronts, a storm which has the potential to create one of the largest threats to aging well – social isolationism. If you are a caregiver to an older LGBT partner or loved one, you will need to be alert to the potential challenges. For instance, there are likely to be limited or no programs for alternative lifestyle older individuals in rural or suburban areas. And the gay male experience of aging is exaggerated among men where there is a more pronounced premium on being attractive or desirable. Generally speaking being 40+ among gay men can be seen as equivalent to being 80+ in the straight community in terms of being marginalized. The social isolation that is a consequence of “premature aging” and marginalization also increases the gay population’s risk for depression, substance abuse, low self-esteem or even suicide. The rate of suicide among gay men is about six times that of straight men.
LBT women may have it even worse. More than one-third, according to recent surveys, say that they have not divulged their sexual preferences to their health care providers. They also are less likely than gay and bisexual men to have purchased long term care or life insurance. About one in five LBT women are caring for an aging partner, but they also feel less prepared financially than gay men for retiring.
Put all these factors together, and the LGBT community is less inclined to seek attention for health issues for fear of hostile or judgmental providers. Poor health care translates into even earlier institutionalization in long term care facilities. Also, it is ironic that in national surveys that nearly three in four LGBT individuals anticipate that they will be caregivers to another person, but one in five are unsure they will be cared for themselves when the need arises. Adding to this potential caregiver shortfall, many gay couples simply do not have conventional family to care for them.
If you are a caregiver to an LGBT elder, encourage the following:
• They have a Last Will and Testament that is really according to their “will”
o With clear advanced directives/living will
• Their partner/spouse has Durable Power of Attorney (health and finance)
• Informal caregiving arrangements are clear and followed
• Priority rights for hospital visitation are followed
• There is Joint Ownership of Property with Rights of Survivorship
And for us all: Recognize that all humans deserve compassionate care which respects their personhood and their definition of family and their wishes.
Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to


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