Apr 102011

UCLA recently published a report on California LGB (lesbian, gay, or bisexual) elders and their health. This was part of the California Health Interview Survey. They looked specifically at LGB elders, aged 50-70, and how their health compared with straight elders.

Their main findings:

  • In general, the differences between LGB and straight elders were more prominent for men than women.
  • LGB elders are more likely to be living alone than straight elders. About half of all gay or bisexual elders live alone, and only 13.4% of straight elders live alone. For women, about 28% (a little more than 1 in 5) of lesbian or bisexual elders live alone, and about 19% straight elders live alone. Why? The report points to differences in social structures: “The majority [of LGB elders] have spent their early and middle adulthood creating independent and self-sufficient lives. Fewer LGB than heterosexual adults have children, so as they enter a time in life when support from children and biological kin are increasingly important to maintaining independence, these supports are less likely to be there than for heterosexual individuals.”
  • LGB elders are more likely to have certain chronic diseases than straight elders. Specifically, men were more likely to have hypertension, diabetes, psychological distress syndrome, physical disability, or self-report that their health was “poor” or only “fair”. For women, higher rates of psychological distress syndrome, physical disability, and self-reporting. Psychological distress syndrome seems to be referring to a non-specific mental illness, most likely depression or anxiety.
  • LGB elders visit the doctor more frequently than straight elders, and LGB women are more likely to delay seeking medical attention.
  • LGB elders are not more likely than straight elders to have heart disease, delay filling prescriptions, visit the emergency room, or to lack a regular health care provider.

Some other interesting things that they found:

  • about 2.3% of elders were LGB
  • LGB elders were more likely than straight elders to have a graduate degree.

This report did NOT look at:

  • HIV infections. They did summarize other estimates stating that one in five gay men are living with HIV. Their results may be reflecting HIV infection-related health issues.
  • Quality of care. They did state that “Past research has documented that discrimination, homophobia, and a lack of ‘cultural competence’ can affect the quality of health care for lesbian, gay and bisexual adults”.

The statistics on the numbers of elders living alone means that they may need help…whether from the community in general, their local government, or through programs like GLEH and OpenHouse. Also, LGB elders appear have poorer health than their straight counterparts. I want to know why: is it the additional stress from homophobia? Is it from HIV? Is it from poor quality of care? Third, GLB elders appear to be having more money difficulties than straight elders. This may be due to institutionalized homophobia, especially not having same-sex partners recognized by Medicare and Social Security.

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