Addressing Social Isolation Among Older LGBTQ+ Adults
There’s a significant correlation between social isolation and a variety of physical and mental conditions - including cognitive decline, depression, and heart disease – according to a recent report released by the National Institutes of Health.
The older adult LGBTQ+ community is particularly vulnerable, which can be attributed to the combination of social isolation and ignorance surrounding sexual orientation and gender identity. Experts say the increasing number of LGBTQ+ seniors and the significant impact of social isolation on health warrants the implementation of education programs for healthcare professionals to increase their awareness and decrease anxiety surrounding the topic of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Research suggests there will be an estimated 7 million LGBTQ+ adults who are 65 years or older by the year 2030. Social determinants affecting the health of the LGBTQ+ community are related to a strong history of oppression and discrimination.
This continues to be an issue due to legal discrimination outside of and within the healthcare system, lack of resources and programs that target this community, and a shortage of healthcare professionals who are knowledgeable culturally competent in LGBTQ+ health. Due to fear of discrimination and persecution, roughly 21% of LGBTQ+ older adults have not told their primary care physician that they identify as LGBTQ+.
Concern about being judged, misunderstanding, and lack of awareness from healthcare providers can cause older LGBTQ+ adults to feel even more isolated and alone. Identifying programs such as Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders are key to addressing this problem. These organizations such as SAGE and HEALE increase awareness by equipping healthcare providers with training and education on how to engage with this community and decrease anxiety when it comes to discussing topics they may not be familiar with.