I'm a Doctor and Here Are the 5 Things LGBTQ+ Seniors Should be Aware of Regarding Their Health
As we celebrate Pride month, it's important to raise awareness about the particular health issues that older adults in the LGBTQ+ community face. Not only are they coping with the same growing list of health issues common to aging adults, LGBTQ+ seniors are also subject to discrimination based on their sexual orientation, often combined with isolation and other factors unique to their community. To advance access to high-quality care across this demographic, it is important to provide seniors who identify as LGBTQ+ with support and resources that will allow them to live long, healthy lives.
As an Internal Medicine Physician at Conviva Care Centers, as well as a member of the LGBTQ+ community of South Florida, I am familiar with the obstacles that LGBTQ+ individuals face in accessing individualized, high-quality care, and I strive to eliminate those barriers within my practice. Read on for advice I share with my LGBTQ+ senior patients to ensure they're prioritizing their health.
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Secure a Support System
Isolation is one of the biggest realities for the senior population at large. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one-fourth of adults aged 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated, which is heightened among LGBTQ+ individuals because of stigma, discrimination and barriers to care.
Many of today's seniors have faced bigotry and lack of acceptance by family members at the time they were coming out. As a result, a large number developed a "chosen family" of friends and others with whom they felt close and who were often in a similar age range. Today, their chosen family members are aging right alongside them and facing the same health challenges, which often means they don't have the caregiver support needed.
In fact, LGBTQ+ seniors are twice as likely to live alone and three to four times less likely to be parents compared to straight-identifying seniors, according to the senior LGBTQ+ advocacy and services organization known as SAGE (Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders), meaning that they do not have children to accompany them. This may enhance feelings of isolation and loneliness, so it is crucial that individuals continue to socialize by joining peer support groups and taking up new hobbies to meet new people and increase their support system.
Take Time For Routine Screenings
Prevention and early detection of disease is important in maintaining health and wellbeing. Even if you are not experiencing symptoms, it is a good idea to get screened for cancer and other illnesses annually. LGBTQ+ individuals also are more likely to go uninsured, encounter barriers to accessing healthcare, and delay care, including care that can prevent a variety of diseases. The organization GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality offers resources for both patients and health professionals focusing on the health needs of the LGBTQ community.
Prioritize Your Mental Health
LGBTQ+ individuals face discrimination and other obstacles throughout their lives, compounding the usual obstacles that seniors face as they age. This combination leaves LGBTQ+ seniors struggling with their mental health at a much higher rate than heterosexual seniors do. In fact, according to the Psychiatric Times, "31% of LGBTQ+ elders have symptoms of depression – 2 to 3 times higher than the general geriatric population – and 39% report having suicidal ideation at some point in their lives." In addition, the report says individuals experiencing HIV had even greater comorbidity and worse mental health outcomes as compared to HIV-negative individuals. To ensure that you are prioritizing both your mental and physical health, ask your primary care provider what mental health resources are available to you, whether in-person or virtually.
Have a Medical Care Team
I have seen firsthand the benefits of having a medical care team as opposed to a single physician, especially for potentially underserved patients such as those in the LGBTQ+ community. For example, an integrated, multidisciplinary care team such as those staffing Conviva Care Centers can provide longer visits, address social determinants of health such as financial and housing security, and provide access to mental/behavioral health specialists. For LGBTQ+ seniors specifically, a care team can provide additional tailored resources to a patient's unique needs.
Utilize LGBTQ+ Friendly Resources
In addition to your primary care physician, there are many resources available for LGBTQ+ senior patients, including SAGE and The National Resource Center on LGBTQ+ Aging. In these resources, individuals will find fact sheets, guides, publications, and assistance on topics related to LGBTQ+ aging including social connectedness, HIV/AIDS, financial security, and healthcare. The American Psychological Association also offers resources for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender aging as part of an effort by the APA's Office on Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity to help address the healthcare needs of LGBTQ+ older adults and those who provide services and care. These websites provide helpful services and information on how LGBTQ+ individuals can prioritize their health and wellbeing.
Raul Martinez-Perez, M.D., is an Internal Medicine Physician at Conviva Care Centers.