Today, people are living longer than ever before. As the U.S. population rapidly ages, so are members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and/or questioning (LGBTQ) community. Reports estimate that there are around 3 million LGBTQ adults over age 50, and that number is expected to grow to around 7 million by 2030.
While health and wellbeing, economic stability and supportive relationships are some of the keys to successful aging, those areas can present roadblocks for older LGBTQ adults. Elders within the LGBTQ community are subject to higher rates of isolation, poor access to health care and housing, reduced financial security, and discrimination than their older heterosexual counterparts.
For instance, members of the LGBTQ community are twice as likely to be single and four times less likely to have children which can lead to increased loneliness and put them at a disadvantage when it comes to spousal and familial support in their later years.
Despite those disparities, there is information and resources to help LGBTQ community members successfully navigate their older years and hopefully minimize experiences of inequality along the way.
Stay on top of your health
As you age, your health needs may become more complex. Aging adults experience a higher risk of chronic conditions. That’s why eating well, exercising, getting physical exams, staying on top of immunizations and being aware of changes to your brain health are vital during this life stage.
For LGBTQ individuals, monitoring your emotional wellbeing is even more critical because there are higher rates of mental health illness compared to heterosexuals. In fact, somewhere between 30% and 60% of LGBTQ people deal with anxiety and depression at some point in their lives. Community and health centers like The National Resource Center on LGBT Aging offer services and programs that foster the mental health of LGBT older adults.
Also, open communication with your health care provider is crucial to receiving optimal treatment. If you’re not comfortable discussing issues with your doctor that may be specific to your gender or sexual identity, then you may not be getting the most relevant advice. Resources, such as the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association’s healthcare provider directory, can help you identify the right health care provider for you. Speaking with a healthcare provider who understands your specific needs can make a difference in charting a positive healthcare journey.
Social interaction is the cornerstone of civilization. Humans are naturally social beings who crave engagement, contact, and communication. Unfortunately, many elderly LGBTQ people fear they may not get those needs met as they grow older. According to a recent survey, three out of four adults age 45 and older who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender say they are concerned about having enough support from family and friends as they age.
To help minimize feelings of isolation and loneliness, LGBTQ individuals can participate in local outreach programs like Advocacy & Services for LGBT Elders (SAGE) to help build a social network.
Make plans for future care now
Planning ahead may mean finding housing where you can live long-term, whether it’s an independent home, retirement community or assisted living facility. Thinking through some of these things now is important when you’re independent. Your home may be easy enough to navigate now, but this may become more difficult as your physical needs change. For example, having a large home with lots of stairs may not be practical in terms of mobility for older adults.
Know your rights
As an older LGBTQ adult, knowing your rights is important. For instance, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) is a federal law that protects you from being denied housing, public or private. What’s more, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) prohibits gender identity discrimination in its federal programs that provide Americans with safe, secure and affordable housing regardless of age, gender or sexual orientation.
Get your finances in order
There are many reasons why LGBTQ elders find themselves financially unstable later in life. Ongoing discrimination across various sectors is likely a contributing factor. Finding professionals who specialize in providing services and advice for LGBTQ people may help you make sound financial and life decisions. Some financial advisors and planners can assist with drawing up will and trust documents, as well as provide guidance on retirement savings and estate planning. If you cannot afford one, find online resources like the National Council on Aging’s Economic Security Programs for financial tips to help plan for your future.