The emerging health needs of aging LGBTQ adults

LGBTQ Health
aging LGBTQ adults

An estimated 2.7 million adults ages 50 and older in the United States identify as LGBTQ, with 1.1 million of them being 65 and older. By 2060, this number is projected to exceed 5 million.

As the population of older adults who identify as LGBTQ continues to grow, health care providers need to understand and address their distinct health needs, a commitment we uphold at Main Line Health. 

The importance of coming out safely

For aging LGBTQ adults, openly discussing their sexual orientation or gender identity with their health care team can cause anxiety and fear of discrimination. And this isn't unfounded, as instances of bias and discomfort in medical environments have led some to withhold vital personal information.

"Health care providers can greatly enhance patient comfort and make patients feel safe by adopting inclusive language, incorporating LGBTQ-specific training and actively showing support for the LGBTQ community in their practice," says Dane E. Menkin, CRNP, director of LGBTQ+ Services at Main Line Health. "Many older adults have not come out publicly, so trust in confidentiality is also crucial."

These efforts not only signal a safe space but also pave the way for more personalized and effective health care. At Main Line Health, we encourage this level of openness to fully understand and cater to the unique health needs of our aging LGBTQ patients, fostering a health care experience based on mutual respect and understanding.

Independent living and non-traditional caregiving

For many aging within the LGBTQ community, the concept of family extends beyond biological ties to include a chosen family of close friends, partners and allies. This redefined support network is especially critical as traditional familial support may not always be available or willing to provide care due to a lack of acceptance or understanding of LGBTQ identities.

Health care professionals can help by facilitating connections to resources specifically tailored for older LGBTQ adults, ensuring that their living arrangements support their need for autonomy and respect. Dane emphasizes the importance of including chosen family in the decision-making process for the care of aging LGBTQ adults, ensuring they receive the compassionate and comprehensive care they deserve. It also opens avenues for health care providers to offer guidance on legal and medical powers of attorney, ensuring that patients' health and well-being decisions are in trusted hands.

Housing security as a social determinant of health

Housing security plays a pivotal role in the well-being and health outcomes of aging LGBTQ adults. The threat of discrimination and potential homelessness looms large for many within this community. A proactive approach can drastically enhance their quality of life, offering a sense of belonging and security that every individual deserves.

"The lack of stable, affirming housing can significantly impact both the mental and physical health of older LGBTQ adults, making it crucial for health care providers to recognize and address this issue proactively," says Dane.

Health care professionals can assist by directing patients toward LGBTQ-friendly housing communities and services that provide legal support and financial counseling. This guidance isn't just about securing a roof over their heads but ensuring that aging LGBTQ individuals find communities where they feel accepted, safe and valued.

Combating social isolation in older LGBTQ adults

The barriers to forming meaningful connections can be steep for those who have navigated a lifetime of discrimination or lack acceptance from their immediate communities. Health care providers are uniquely positioned to bridge this gap by actively referring older LGBTQ adults to welcoming social groups and initiatives tailored to their needs.

By fostering links with LGBTQ-friendly community centers and facilitating access to diverse support services, health care professionals can play a vital role in enriching the social lives of their LGBTQ patients.

“Encouraging engagement with these supportive networks not only combats loneliness but also bolsters the overall health and resilience of aging individuals within the LGBTQ community,” says Dane. At Main Line Health, we incorporate this proactive stance to significantly mitigate the effects of social isolation, nurturing a sense of community and belonging that is essential for a fulfilling life.

Special considerations for older transgender adults

Transgender elders face a distinct set of health challenges that demand a nuanced and knowledgeable approach from health care providers.

"It's important to accurately identify and address screening risks unique to transgender individuals, which requires an understanding of their specific medical and psychological needs," says Dane. Main Line Health provides personalized care to ensure that older transgender adults are not only affirmed but are also receiving the preventive care necessary to safeguard their health. 

Additionally, providers should offer supportive resources and referrals for mental health services, recognizing the compounded stress and trauma that can affect transgender individuals, especially those of advanced age.

Cultivating an environment where older transgender adults feel understood, respected and cared for is crucial. Through dedicated efforts, health care professionals can deliver truly affirming and effective care, tailored to the unique needs of older transgender adults.

Next steps:

Make an appointment with an LGBTQ inclusive care provider
Learn more about the LGBTQ Inclusive Care program
Mental health challenges in the LGBTQ community

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