Healthy aging in the queer community
by Dr. Tineke Malus
Gay America is going gray. There are 4.7 million LGBT elders (over 65 years old) including one million transgender elders, according to the best estimates.
There are several issues that affect the LGBT community disproportionately to the rest of society. These include HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, breast cancer, substance abuse, issues affecting mental health (including suicide, hate violence and elder abuse) and, for many transgender individuals, the long-term health impact of hormone replacement therapy. Additionally for trans elders, there are different implications and concerns depending on how long someone has been taking hormones.
Solid public-health data on LGBT elders is quite limited, but a 1994 survey suggested that the majority of the population felt they received substandard care from providers who knew they were LGBT. Research findings also indicated that gay men had negative views of how gay society viewed growing older and how they viewed their own aging than do lesbian respondents. Gay men were also found to have a greater fear of negative evaluation by others, and had given more importance to their own physical attractiveness.
Access to health care is seemingly more complex for everyone these days, but for people who have a lifetime history of discrimination, the barriers are even more insurmountable. For example, it’s a barrier to care if you have to constantly educate your care provider on LGBT issues, or wonder if your care provider will be negatively biased. LGBT patients are less likely to tell their care providers that they are LGBT. There are few providers who are trained to ask.
There are many unanswered questions regarding long-term care for our community. What are the options for long-term care? Are nursing homes safe spaces? What is life like for gay elders? Elder abuse and neglect can happen to anyone, but isolated seniors are considered at higher risk. LGBT elders are less likely to turn to law enforcement due to history patterns of discrimination.
Who will take care of us? We tend not to have the same resources, such as pensions, partner benefits and security. There are higher degrees of isolation and marginalization. LGBT elders experience a sense of invisibility in the community. This is something to address across our life spans.
What’s Included in Successful Aging?
- Health care access: Improving access by requiring some education for caregivers.
- Social adjustment: We need honored and respected roles for our elders within the LGBT community to carry the wisdom they hold, understand our own history and create the traditions that will carry us all into a supported position within society. The wider community can get involved in creating health programs that will eventually serve them as they age.
- Prevention : Get screening tests, blood pressure, cholesterol, breast exams, pap smears, testicular and prostate exams, yearly dental exams, eye exams, HIV, hepatitis, skin exams, bone density test, colorectal exams, thyroid testing, pneumococcal and influenza vaccines. Maintain a healthy weight.
Naturopathic Ideas of Healthy Aging
- Nutrition from whole food sources is best (phytonutrients). With declining age, appetite and digestive enzyme, some supplementation may be appropriate. Micronutrient deficiencies can result from chronic eating disorders, alcohol intake and the ‘poly pharmacy’ that so many of the elderly of this country are faced with.
- Practices that encourage the healthy maintenance of the life force are the best way to encourage healthy aging. Physical activity that helps keep range of motion in the joints such as tai chi or gentle yoga can affect the ability to sleep and digest as well.
- It’s helpful to embrace the phase of life where you are able to slow down and have an appreciation of life from an expanded perspective. Growing old may be inevitable, but we have many choices along the way about how we want to carry ourselves through that process. Maintaining a spiritual practice and community can help.
LGBT Elder Care Resources
The Services and Advocacy for GBLT Elders program began in New York in 1978 and has since expanded to include 21 affiliates across the country. The Utah chapter of SAGE is run out of the Utah Pride Center. For more information, contact the SAGE Utah Program Manager, Charles Lynn Frost, firstname.lastname@example.org, 801-913-8884.
Dr. Tineke Malus is a naturopathic doctor working out of the Full Circle Care Clinic, 150 S. 600 E. #6B. To see a list of sources and resources used in the research of this article, visit malushealth.org.