LGBTQ+ older adults endure unique challenges

A pair of older adults walking through the woods, wrapped closely together in a Pride flag

Pride Month is an important time to commemorate strides made within the community, but for some older LGBTQ+ identified adults, it might not be a celebratory time. The older population experienced a long history of prejudice and discrimination that may remain with them, and their experiences look different from today’s world.

“Pride is a time of celebration however people choose to celebrate, and we shouldn’t leave anyone behind. Celebration has multiple meanings and what can look like a party can also have other meanings for people who are celebrating,” said Dr. Michael Kauth, professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor and executive director of LGBTQ+ Health at the Department of Veterans Affairs. “Pride Month is a time to recognize the civil rights gains by LGBTQ+ people, but there is still a lot of work to be done.”

For some, increased visibility on their identities as an LGBTQ+ person can make them more vulnerable to harassment or violence. Older LGBTQ+ adults face additional struggles that may be related to a combination of social, mental and physical health issues. They also often experience loss of partners, friends or family members, which can contribute to increased isolation that can exacerbate depression. Older LGBTQ+ adults carry additional health risk factors due to housing instability and food insecurity, leading to poor nutrition and difficulty accessing healthcare.

“The published literature also shows increased resilience among older LGBTQ+ adults. Older adults have been through a lot, survived a lot and found ways of coping and managing that younger people have yet to experience in the same way,” Kauth said.

Because of family conflict or rejection, LGBTQ+ people often have a chosen family, partner or close friends who are important and help provide meaning in their lives. Non-LGBTQ+ people often find these meaningful experiences through family relationships. Human beings are social creatures, and everyone needs social contact.

Older adults might find themselves in a situation where they are experiencing severe health problems, leading to isolation and being increasingly cutoff from their social support. While it might be difficult to encourage an older adult to seek mental healthcare, Kauth suggests encouraging them in an empathetic way, such as, “I noticed you’re often down and don’t leave the house as much as you used to, and I’m worried for you. Have you thought about talking to someone who could help?” Encouraging them to talk to a mental health professional, seek a support group or gather information online about support services and counseling is a step in the right direction.

“From my experience, everyone needs a therapist at some time in their lives, and everyone can benefit from therapy, so give it a try,” he said.

Veterans can visit the VA, which provides an LGBTQ+ veteran care coordinator at every facility who can connect them with counseling through the VHA LGBTQ+ Health Program. Other resources available to older LGBTQ+ adults in the Houston area include:

Kauth also recommends exploring available online resources at the National Resource Center on LGBTQ+ Aging.

By Homa Warren

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