female physician talking to older male patient

The Importance of Learning to Care for Older LGBTQ Adults

The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) older adults—including access to health care and trauma that affects their wellbeing—can greatly affect their health and interactions with health care providers.

“Many LGBTQ older adults have experienced a history in which they have been labeled as immoral, have lacked legal protections, and have been considered as people who have a disease or mental illness,” said Rajean Moone, PhD, LNHA, LALD, FGSA, faculty director for Long Term Care Administration in the College of Continuing & Professional Studies, and associate director for education in the School of Public Health’s Center for Healthy Aging & Innovation. “They may have been deprived of the companionship of their partner or spouse when they have had to be admitted to the hospital, or have had little support or assistance because of their identity, or may even have lost their job because they got married. Today, local, state, and federal protections can still be insufficient to protect LGBTQ individuals from discrimination. All of these experiences impact their health and interactions with providers.”

Working with the Minnesota Northstar Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Program (MN-GWEP), Moone authored MN-GWEP’s recently launched LGBTQ Aging Care toolkit which includes a free online interactive module for health professional students to learn about the unique needs and challenges of LGBTQ older adults as well as tips for providing LGBTQ welcoming care. 

“It’s vital for our health professional students and clinicians to learn how to integrate LGBTQ-friendly practices into clinical care. This includes considering each patient’s identity and intersectionality, because these concepts are likely to affect their thoughts, behaviors, and relationships with older adults and their families,” said Moone. “For example, clinicians may encounter an individual who might not identify as being ‘gay,’ but might have same-sex intimate relations, behavior that might increase their risk for certain conditions. Therefore, asking not only about identity but also about behaviors becomes a preferred clinical practice.”

According to Moone, past experiences—including harassment, discrimination or abuse—can lead to LGBTQ patients avoiding health care services because of the fear of how providers will treat them. 

“Unfortunately, such occurrences often cause LGBTQ older adults to delay seeking help until catastrophic or irreversible damage has occurred,” he said. “This, then, is the LGBTQ aging paradox. Disparities result in needing more help from formal services, but a lifetime of experiences has created a fear of accessing those services among many LGBTQ older adults. This is why it's so important to help prepare our health professional students and clinicians to understand these unique issues in order to provide the best possible care for LGBTQ older adults.”

 

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