Growing old is never easy, but for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer-identified (LGBTQ+) baby boomers — the overwhelming majority of whom have endured lifetimes of discrimination and prejudice — the process of aging can be particularly fraught. According to a major, 2017 survey published in The Gerontologist, it’s estimated that living in the U.S. there more than 2.7 million LGBTQ+ people aged 50 and older, including an estimated 1.1 million seniors (ages 65+).
The report came on the heels of several recent landmark studies, each intent on understanding the unique aging and health needs of LGBTQ+ older adults — an intersecting community of people who, until only the past decade, had been largely ignored and understudied by the field of gerontology.
The growing interest in this intersection reflects a shifting landscape within assisted living facilities and their concomitants (e.g. healthcare providers), and recognizes that increasing diversity among the senior segment necessitates a greater level of awareness, compassion, and inclusivity by caregivers and nursing homes: by 2060, “the total number of older adults who self-identify as LGBT, have engaged in same-sex sexual behavior or romantic relationships, and/or are attracted to members of the same sex is estimated to increase to more than 20 million,” (The Gerontologist).
For a group historically underserved by policy and healthcare services, the relative invisibility of LGBTQ+ elders to researchers has been dispiriting — if unsurprising, considering society’s slow uptake of acceptance. But what’s become immediately clear from the studies done since is that LGBTQ+ older adults face a number of special challenges as they age, and have medical, social, and emotional needs that differ greatly from their heterosexual and/or cisgender1 peers.
It’s important that providers of elder care services be aware that these baby boomers and seniors — the aging faces of the Stonewall Generation, who in 1969 led the charge for equality following the powder-keg uprising at Stonewall Inn that propelled the fight for gay rights to the national stage — are now confronting an open ridicule as the first out members in their assisted living communities. And while they’ve proven their resilience, having also fought to reach an old age that too many of their peers never would — lost to the AIDS crisis at the height of young adulthood — few of these individuals will have made here untouched by trauma, and the punishing effects of stigma, discrimination, rejection, and struggle.
In the second half of this article, we will explore the kinds of challenges faced by LGBTQ+ older adults, and why it is so important that for us as caregivers to understand them.
To continue reading Part Two of this article, please click here.
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