Gay people tend to spend much of their lives thinking they’ll never get old.
And then they do. Sadly, often alone
“In the LGBT community we are very ageist,” said Nate Sweeney, executive director of the LGBT Center at Chase Brexton Health Care in Baltimore. “We don’t like to think about ourselves getting older, or getting sick.”
I wrote a this two-part series on LGBT caregivers. The reality is many LGBT people find themselves alone. Without blood relatives, children or a spouse when they get into their golden years. They often have no one to rely upon than other LGBT people, who often are not their partner or spouse, to care for them.
“If I get hit by a car, my husband can go into the hospital. He can tell them what my wishes are. That’s a great piece of marriage equality,” said Sweeney, who is legally married. “But the vast majority of LGBT people are not married, have no children, and live alone.”
For those who do have partners, or if they are not legally married that becomes a problem. If they don’t have advance directives in place, who will make end of life decisions for them?
LGBT older adults are part of a vast group of Baby Boomers called “elder orphans.” As many as 25 percent of Boomers are elder orphans, as CNN reported in May.
That’s why Chase Brexton just launched a new program called SAGECAP Baltimore.
The program provides:
- Support for informal, unpaid LGBT caregivers in the community.
“LGBT people for years have been caring for their families of choice,” Sweeney said. “They moved across the country, and they are isolated from blood relatives. Some started caring for an ex partner from 15 years ago. All because they don’t want that crazy sister that’s five states away making medical decisions.”
There also is a SAGECAP program in New York City, but it is run out of a senior center, not a healthcare facility. SAGE is an acronym for the New York-based Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders.
According to SAGE, family members provide 80 percent of long-term care in the United States. Older LGBT adults often are estranged from their families. LGBT seniors are twice as likely to live alone and three times more likely to be without children.
One stop elder care, caregiver referrals
The Chase Brexton program is being funded with a three-year grant. This grant is from the Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Foundation. This program is unique. The Chase Brexton is a federally funded, holistic healthcare center.
Services range from LGBT-centered caregiver support groups to full blown case management. “As you know, it’s very isolating being the caregiver,” Sweeney said. “So being able to reach them and find them is difficult. That’s why we’re partnering with other interested providers. so they can make referrals to our services. We’re hoping we’re building something that can be replicated at other LGBT health centers.”
On the national level, SAGE has provided cultural sensitivity training to several organizations. They have worked with the Alzheimer’s Association of America. The Alzheimer’s Association has provided caregiver support training to SAGE.
At Chase Brexton, caregivers can get support. They also receive referrals for themselves. This occurs when they bring their loved ones for medical appointments. Services may include referring a caregiver to a mental health therapist, for example.
Chase Brexton also will be able to tell LGBT people about the necessary paperwork they need. Advanced planning designates someone to make their healthcare and end of life decisions. It’s not something many LGBT people think about.
More on Aging LGBT Population Need To Prepare For Their Trip Over The Rainbow…
A PBS documentary, “Before you Know it,” was enlightening . I reviewed this for Healthline Contributors. Filmmaker P.J. Raval said, “When people watch this film, I hope they learn the aging process does not discriminate. It’s actually something that happens to all of us. Gay men are having some of the most extreme examples of ageism. They experience isolation, without a family structure, often single and with no children. They have to make their own communities and find their own communities.”
Caring for the elderly has become a healthcare crisis in America. Over 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 years old every single day. Many Baby Boomers already are caring for their own parents. Not to mention that they’re getting older themselves
Among Baby Boomers who care for their parents, it is their LGBT children that step up to the plate. The LGBT community is willing to provide care compared to their heterosexual siblings. Sweeney said. And it’s often because of the very thing that threatens their own livelihood when they get older – they’re alone.
“Our healthcare system for elders in this country needs a lot of work,” Sweeney said. “We don’t value the elderly in our society. All these systems have been brought up not to value our elders, nor the staff who works in these fields.”
I wrote a story for Healthline News. “The People Caring for Your Parents Live in Poverty,” reports on the low pay that home health care workers receive.
For LGBT seniors who seek care in an alternative setting, they often find forced back “into the closet”. For seniors who blazed the trail for equal rights for gay men and lesbians, it adds insult to aging. I wrote about that last year in this story for Los Angeles Times Content Solutions.
SAGE is working nationally to change that reality. It has provided to training to more than 3,000 elder workers in 27 states. They help to create more affirming environments in nursing and assisted living facilities. Training varies from online courses to in-depth, on-site training. The organization even provides facility audits.
“Reforming the entire aging services industry…it’s a huge undertaking,” Sweeney said. “There are 11,000 McDonald’s in the U.S. There are 16,000 nursing homes. That’s not something we think about when it comes to making systemic changes. The corner we’re starting in is about the caregiver. It is about helping LGBT older adults prepare for their own futures.”