The Forgotten: The Aging LGBT+ Community Living with Dementia

Dementia negatively affects everyone, but researchers have reason to believe that it impacts LGBT+ people in a distinctly different way, causing many additional challenges. There is some good news: rates of dementia in the LGBT+ population are lower than that in the straight, cisgender community, at 7.4 percent compared to ten percent. However, those LGBT+ people who do get dementia, whether from Alzheimer’s or not, face special challenges. These include different initial symptoms, a decline in day-to-day functioning, and a lack of support from medical staff and family members. 

How Dementia is Different for the LGBT+ Community

Research from the University of California, San Francisco, found that there were some differences in how LGBT+ people experience and respond to dementia. They are more likely to suffer a different set of symptoms at the start of the disease than their straight and cisgender counterparts. They also face higher rates of initial memory loss and confusion, which has a negative impact on how well they can function in their daily lives. 

Dementia reduces everyone’s ability to remember, plan, and use language. However, research has found that LGBT+ participants were more likely to report a decline in functioning that caused them to give up certain day-to-day activities. 

The lead author, Jason Flatt, assistant professor at the Institute for Health & Aging at UCSF, told NPR that this more dramatic decline in LGBT+ people may be due to their higher likelihood of certain health factors that can make dementia worse, such as depression, PTSD and high stress. Or, it could be due to factors like loneliness, an inability to work or lack of access to regular healthcare. 

How Dementia Support is Different for the LGBT+ Community 

Dementia is a manageable disease. Those who have it can be kept safe and happy for many years, assuming they have proper support to do so. Unfortunately for many in the LGBT+ community, getting the right kind of support for dementia can be challenging. 

First, LGBT+ people may be reluctant to seek out health care if they have previously been discriminated against by health care providers. Many are motivated to hide their orientation from their health care providers, in fact 40 percent report their nurses, doctors and other medical staff are unaware of their orientation. 

Members of the LGBT+ community may also lack family support that could otherwise make handling a dementia diagnosis easier. According to AARP, they are twice as likely to age alone, without a spouse or partner as straight and cisgender people. They are also between three to four times less likely to have children. Often, straight and cisgender people can rely on their partner or their children to help them with the daily tasks they can no longer complete. 

While those with dementia in the LGBT+ community face unique challenges, community support is available through organizations such as the LGBT Aging Center. Professional Geriatric Care Managers are another wonderful support for LGBT+ elders. Plus, as further research is conducted, we have the opportunity to better understand and address these issues and keep LGBT+ elders healthy with the support they need to face dementia. 

Sources:

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/07/17/742220471/lgbtq-americans-could-be-at-higher-risk-for-dementia-study-finds
https://www.aarp.org/health/dementia/info-2018/lgbt-dementia-care-study.html

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