Celebrating Pride: Unveiling the Health and Wellness of LGBT Older Adults
Aging with Pride: The National Health, Aging and Sexuality/Gender study is generating exciting and crucial knowledge on health, aging, and caregiving among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) adults age 50 and older. This first-ever national project funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Aging has been funded for five additional years and will continue to advance knowledge about resilience and health disparities and their impact on both physical and mental health within and across these historically disadvantaged communities. From across the nation 2,560 LGBT adults, ranging in age from 50 to 102 years old participate in the innovative Aging with Pride project.
These populations face unique health risks—discrimination, victimization, poor general health—and lack access to health care, which can result in increased healthcare costs. The project illustrates the diverse lived experiences of LGBT older adults ranging from those coming of age in the shadow of the Great Depression to the Baby Boom generation.
Unlike in previous research, the vast majority of the participants are over the age of 65, with 35 percent over the age of 70 and 10 percent over age 80. The participants in the project are diverse by sexual orientation, gender identity, race and ethnicity, income, education, and geographic region of the country.
Knowledge from this project is leading to the development of services and public policies to reduce such adverse health consequences, which is vital since the population of LGBT older adults will double between 2000 and 2030. Several important projects have been developed based on the Aging with Pride findings, including GenPRIDE and IDEA: Innovations in Dementia Empowerment and Action.
GenPRIDE (Generations Aging with Pride) was created in Seattle to build community and targeted services for LGBT adults age 50 and older. Programming has been created that socially engages the community, educates them on many aspects of aging, and provides health and wellness activities like yoga, non-impact aerobics, and nutritional workshops, to name a few.
GenPRIDE delivers different training modules for assisted-living and health care providers as well as community members. The objective is to assist providers in learning how they can create a welcoming, inclusive environment for LGBT members who seek out their services.
Aging with Pride findings also provided the information necessary to develop and test the first evidence-based intervention for LGBT older adults living with memory loss, including those with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, and their informal care partners. The new intervention, Aging with Pride: IDEA (Innovations in Dementia Empowerment and Action), will test a tailored approach to improve physical function and independence, addressing the unique needs of LGBT older adults, who frequently experience stigma, isolation, negative interactions with health care providers, and limited access to support resources.
Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias affect up to 5.7 million Americans. LGBT older adults are at heightened risk of disability due to cognitive or physical impairment yet they remain underserved. “LGBT older adults with memory loss and their care partners are understudied and underserved populations, and the findings will aid the development of much-needed interventions for other vulnerable older adult populations,” said Dr. Karen Fredriksen Goldsen, the principal investigator. “We have had an overwhelming response to these projects from older adults, practitioners, and agencies around the nation. While many think that LGBT older adults will not take part in this type of research, in fact, they want to participate and create a lasting legacy for the future.”
A 56-year-old transgender woman stated, “I have had an overwhelmingly positive experience with my gender transition so far, but I would say that my primary concern about the future is with access to health care and potential discrimination as a senior transgender person, especially if the need arises for emergency or long-term care.”
Dr. Fredriksen Goldsen is a University of Washington School of Social Work professor, the director of Healthy Generations, a Gerontological Society of America fellow, and Hartford mentor. For more information, e-mail AgePride@uw.edu.
See related articles in recent issues of AgeWise King County: “Study Focuses on LGBT Older Adults with Memory Loss” (March 2019) and “LGBTQ Lack Adequate Access to Housing and Aging Services” (February 2019).