A series of reports believed to comprise the first longitudinal study of its kind found that LGBT Americans 50 years and older are at higher risk of disability, cardiovascular disease, depression and social isolation.
But the group — at 2.7 million strong — is also resilient, choosing to be active in their communities, participating in wellness activities and serving in the military.
Findings from Aging with Pride: National Health, Aging, Sexuality/Gender Study” by University of Washington’s School of Social Work were published this month in a 2017 supplement of The Gerontologist. The study documents how certain life events, including coming out, work and relationships, affect health and quality of life. It also looks at various other factors, such as race/ethnicity, partnership status, resiliency among HIV-positive gay and bisexual men, and transgender older adults with prior military service. Social networks, mental health, high-risk alcohol consumption and health care engagement were also studied.
The comprehensive study is likely to prove an important foundation for both future research and policy, as the population of older Americans who self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender — a demographic that is understudied — is expected to increase to more than 5 million by 2060.
“It’s important to understand the health and well-being of LGBT older adults so we can take steps to reduce health disparities,” said principal investigator Karen Fredriksen-Goldsen, professor and director of the UW’s Healthy Generations Hartford Center of Excellence, in a statement. “This research highlights pathways to better understand health for all marginalized communities.”
Among the findings:
- 41 percent have a disability, higher than for heterosexual adults of the same age. In the realm of other health disparities, lesbian and bisexual older women have higher rates of cardiovascular disease and obesity than heterosexual older women. And gay and bisexual older men are more likely to experience poor physical health and to live alone than heterosexual older men.
- 82 percent engage in moderate physical activity. In addition, 91 percent engage regularly in wellness activities.
- 89 percent feel positive about belonging to their LGBT communities and 38 percent attend spiritual or religious activities at least once a month.
- 41 percent of transgender older adults, 41 percent of bisexual men, and 34 percent of gay men have served in the military.
- 82 percent have been victimized at least once in their lives, with 64 percent at least three times.
- 68 percent have experienced verbal harassment; 43 percent were threatened with violence.
- 31 percent report depression; 53 percent experience loneliness.
- 14 percent of gay and bisexual male participants are living with HIV.
- 13 percent have been denied healthcare or received inferior care. Access to healthcare may also be hampered because of sexual or gender identity. For example, 21 percent do not disclose their sexual or gender identity to their physician and 15 percent fear accessing healthcare outside the LGBT community. What’s more, 22 percent of transgender older adults need to see a doctor but can’t afford it.
The study, funded by the National Institute on Aging, surveyed 2,450 adults, with results published in the form of 10 articles in The Gerontologist supplement. They focus on three themes: influence of life events; diversity and subgroup differences; and processes and mechanisms underlying health and quality of life.
“The insights gleaned from this study of aging among LGBT older adults can deepen our understanding of the richness, diversity and resilience of lives across the life course,” Fredriksen-Goldsen said. “As we move forward in aging-related research, services and policies, it’s important to understand that these communities are diverse, and that unique groups face distinct challenges to their health.”