LGBT Adults Later In Life
By 2050, the number of people over the age of 65 will double to almost 84 million. Right now, there are at least one and a half million LGBT Americans over the age of 60.
Compared to heterosexual seniors, LGBT elders face more physical and mental health issues as they grow older. One-third of LGBT older adults live at or below the federal poverty level. Due to a lifetime of stress and trauma caused by discrimination, they also may be more vulnerable to neglect and mistreatment in aging care facilities. They may face dual discrimination due to their age and their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Over 50% of LGBT seniors have depression, and 39% reported contemplating suicide. A major issue this age group faces is isolation. LGBT seniors are three to four times less likely to have children. They are also twice as likely to live alone and to be single. LGBT seniors have a higher chance of being apart from their biological families; they often face judgement from their families, causing a lack of support in their life.
Research finds that bisexual older adults face unique challenges compared to their gay and lesbian peers. For example, the social isolation faced by LGBT older adults is compounded for bisexual older adults, who are less likely to be “out” about their sexual orientation. According to Pew Research, only 18% of bisexual respondents ages 45 and older said that the most important people in their life knew they were bisexual. In comparison, among gay and lesbian adults, around 70% of both older and younger adults reported that the important people in their lives knew their sexual orientation.
Social isolation can lead to poorer mental and physical health, to elder abuse, and to other negative outcomes for older adults. The most common and most studied form of social support network among LGBT adults and LGBT older adults are their “families of choice.” Families of choice refers to partners, friends, and other individuals that are very near and dear, who are considered and act in place of one’s biological family. Another source of support is through LGBT community organizations.
“We did so much to let these young people have the privilege and right … to hold hands and walk down the street. Now we mean nothing because we are old. It’s like we are invisible and don’t matter.”
Portia Cantrell, Silver Pride Project coordinator
Unfortunately, incidents of severe homophobia or transphobia from healthcare providers toward older sexual and gender minority adults are very common.
Transgender older adults have specific needs for treatment as they begin to age. Different from LGB older adults, many transgender older adults do not have the option to conceal their gender history to health professionals as their body may reveal scars and other evidence that contradict their gender appearance when dressed (Cook-Daniels, 2006). Because of this, transgender individuals may be more susceptible to discrimination and abuse by health professionals, and this is particularly the case for transgender older adults who may seek more frequent and intimate health care due to age related physical conditions and disabilities (CookDaniels, 2006) As a result of fear of discrimination, LGB elders may conceal their sexual orientation from their health care provider (Harrison & Silenzio, 1996).
“Psychological service providers and care givers for older adults need to be sensitive to the histories and concerns of LGBT people and to be open-minded, affirming and supportive towards LGBT older adults to ensure accessible, competent, quality care.”