First Federally-funded Study on LGBT Aging Released

Marsha Wetzel lost her life partner of 30 years to colon cancer, as well as her home. Finding a tiny room in a senior living community seemed like a lifesaver. When she mentioned to other residents that she had raised a son with her partner, Judy Kahn, they seemed shocked that her partner was a woman. Word got around quickly that Marsha is a lesbian. Since then, she was subjected to verbal and physical abuse by certain residents, and is currently suing the management of the home for not only failing to stop the harassment but of “retaliating against her for complaining about the abuse” and “seeking to push her out of the facility.”

Ms. Wetzel is not the only one experiencing this and other forms of discrimination as a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) elder. Currently, 2.4% of older adults in the United States identify as LGBT, which makes up 2.7 million adults age 50 and older and 1.1 million age 65 and older. And, research shows that aging and health needs of LGBT older adults are rarely addressed in services, policies, or research. To address this knowledge gap, the National Institute on Aging, part of NIH, approved funding to Dr. Karen Fredriksen-Goldsen at the University of Washington in 2015 to study health disparities in older LGBT adults. Her multiyear study is entitled, “Caring and Aging with Pride: The National Health, Aging, Sexuality and Gender Study.”

Caring and Aging with Pride, the first national federally-funded project examining LGBT aging and health, provides new knowledge about risks and resilience among LGBT adults age 50 and older. With over 2,400 LGBT adults ranging in age from 50 to over 100, this project was designed to deepen our society’s understanding of how various life experiences are related to changes in aging, health, and well-being over time. The project was a collaboration among 17 community agencies serving LGBT older adults in every census division throughout the U.S., and was funded through a federal grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute on Aging (NIA).

These are some of the findings, grouped by category:

Aging and Health Findings

  • Nearly one-half of those surveyed have a disability and nearly one-third report depression.
  • 13% have been denied healthcare or received inferior care.
  • More than 20% do not disclose their sexual or gender identity to their physician.
  • 22% of transgender older adults need to see a doctor but can’t afford it.
  • 15% fear accessing healthcare outside the LGBT community
  • LGBT older adults have higher rates of disability and mental distress than heterosexual older adults.
  • LGBT older women have higher rates of cardiovascular disease and obesity than heterosexual older women.
  • Gay and bisexual older men are more likely to experience poor physical health and to live alone than heterosexual older men.

Resilience

  • 91% engage regularly in wellness activities.
  • 89% feel positive about belonging to their LGBT communities.
  • 38% attend spiritual or religious activities at least once a month.
  • 41% of transgender older adults, 41% of bisexual men, and 34% of gay men have served in the military.

Risks/Adversity

  • 68% experienced verbal harassment;
  • 43% were threatened with violence.
  • 31% report depression; 53% experience loneliness.
  • 27% have experienced the death of a partner.
  • 14% of gay and bisexual male participants are living with HIV.
  • 30% do not have a will.
  • 36% do not have a health care power of attorney.

Caregiving

  • Rates of caregiving by both women (30%) and men (26%) are high.
  • 35% of the caregivers are providing care to a partner or spouse, 32% to a friend, 16% to a parent, 2% to an adult child, 7% to other relatives.
  • Caregivers are more likely than non-caregivers to report a disability, depression, victimization, and verbal and physical abuse.

Most needed services: senior housing, transportation, legal services, social events.

This study was published in The Gerontologist.

As you can see from the study, LGBT seniors are often caregivers, many live alone, and more than a third do not have a Will or a Health Care Power of Attorney. This is alarming, since everyone, particularly LGBT elders, should protect themselves and their loved ones by having certain documents in place. Below is a list of Estate Planning documents the every LGBT senior (and everyone else) should consider:

Revocable Living Trust: To spell out how your assets are to be distributed, you should transfer your assets, during life or at death, to a Revocable Living Trust. This strategy protects your assets from having to go through probate, which is an expensive, public, and time-consuming nightmare.

Possibly an Irrevocable Trust: If you want to protect your assets from the nightmare of probate PLUS lawsuits PLUS nursing home expenses, then you need our proprietary Living Trust Plus™ asset protection trust.

Financial Powers of Attorney and Advance Medical Directives empower someone you choose to make financial and medical decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated. Spouses can appoint each other, but it is wise to have a “Plan B,” which involves naming another (preferably younger) person to serve simultaneously or in succession.

Although LGBT couples may now marry, it does not mean all LGBT couples will get married. In fact, according to a UCLA study, the rate of marriage among LGBT couples is significantly lower than among traditional couples. Estate planning is advisable for all couples, and it remains critical for unmarried couples (including unmarried LGBT couples).

Whether you are married or unmarried, if you don’t have an estate plan in place, it is important to meet with an experienced estate planning attorney, such as myself, to craft a comprehensive plan tailored to your situation. We encourage you to visit our LGBT website — LGBTElderLaw.com – and to call us when you are ready to make an appointment for a no-cost initial consultation:

Fairfax LGBT Estate Planning: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg LGBT Estate Planning: 540-479-1435
Rockville LGBT Estate Planning: 301-519-8041
DC LGBT Estate Planning: 202-587-2797

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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.

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