Improving the Quality of Life for LGBTQ Older Adults

Photo by BigStock/dizainstock
Photo by BigStock/dizainstock

Aging is a reality of life, one that brings new and difficult challenges to the table, especially for the LGBTQ community. Many older folks in our community are not only feeling the effects of social isolation, but are anxious and fearful about their options for senior care. 

What is the LGBTQ older adult community facing as they age that others are not? Do LGBTQ-friendly senior care facilities even exist? Is anyone trying to help? 

Turns out, there is more good news than bad news. 

We talked to two researchers at the University of Minnesota who are doing incredible work to obtain hard evidence to support productive solutions for our older adults so they can navigate their later years with peace and ease.   

Dr. Rajean Moone, faculty director for long-term care administration at the U of M, was the principal investigator on the 2022 LGBTQ Aging Needs Assessment, one of very few studies done to gain information on the aging LGBTQ population in Minnesota. The LGBTQ population has woefully been left out of data collection in our state and nationwide, but the needs assessment is a huge step in the right direction. The needs assessment has been sent out every ten years since 2002, this year in mostly electronic form. In the 2022 study, there was a 46-question survey taken by 354 LGBTQ-identifying participants aged 50 and over.  

The survey found that, compared to the general population, LGBTQ older adults: 

  1. Are nearly twice as likely to be caregivers
  • Are less likely to have a friend or family member to provide care for them
  • Are half as likely to have children
  • Are more likely to report not having enough close friends

“Often when we think of senior care, we think of nursing homes and assisted living facilities, but at any given time, a very small fraction of the population reside in senior care [facilities],” Moone points out. “Over 90% of care for older Minnesotans is provided informally and unpaid by friend and family members.” This illustrates the critical need for senior care facilities to be able to serve the LGBTQ community, many just don’t have the supports in place to get that care elsewhere. 

So, we have a little bit of data, now what?

Moone has teamed up with Dr. Simon Rosser, professor and researcher in the school of public health at the U of M who has been researching gay men’s health for 30 years, and Dr. Tetyana Shippee, associate professor in the division of health policy and management, to dig into the policies senior care facilities currently have to support their LGBTQ older adults, as well as develop and test the efficacy of training for employees. 

One of the open-ended questions on the needs assessment asked individuals to identify what signals to them an LGBTQ welcoming provider, and a few criteria were mentioned: do they display a rainbow flag, does their literature show same-sex couples, do they have LGBTQ staff, do they or do they not “pull their hand away when I say I am a part of the LGBTQ community” – simple practices that can make a world of difference to eliminate fear and help folks truly feel at ease and at home. These are the types of policies and practices our researchers are looking for in facilities, among others.

Developing and utilizing excellent staff training is the key to changing policies and making spaces more welcoming. This is the biggest goal for Moone, Rosser, and Shippee. 

A huge barrier to implementing training, however, is the fact that the senior care industry is currently experiencing massive rates of direct staff turnover. 

Their solution?

Translate the current well-established Training to Serve training program into a one hour, self-directed e-training: one that is easy-to-use and can be available at any time to any staff member. 

“We’re hoping to help with some of that turnover,” Moone explains. “The model Training to Serve has been using is — it’s an in-person, a one and done. But that doesn’t solve your workforce turnover issues when, you’ve done the training, and then the next day you have five new staff, or five staff leave.”

Another goal is making it national. 

“Minnesota is really fortunate that Rajean has lead the way with this training,” Rosser says gratefully. “The situation for LGBT seniors in some places are so bad that two states now, California and Massachusetts, have legislated that every staff member needs training.” Bringing Training to Serve curriculum to the National Institutes of Health could be a game changer.  

That’s where the science comes in. If they can prove, through randomized controlled trials, that this training really works, then Rosser says, determinedly, “we can present it to the nation and say ‘look, these are the data, this works, and it’s really important.’”

There is hope for the future, and this star team is leading the way to make the world a better place for our older adult community.

PrimeTimers – Social organization for gay and bisexual men of all ages to meet and socialize

Friends & Co. – Organization for older adults to connect and receive support – check out their “Let’s Do Lunch” gatherings!

Rainbow Health – Resource for healthcare providers and staff to access training and education

SAGE – Advocacy and services for LGBTQ elders and the people who serve them

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