By Frank Spinelli, M D
Originally published on Advocate.com September 22 2010 3:40 PM ET
Growing old is tough for everyone, but it can be even tougher if you’re gay. According to a report presented this year at the annual conference of the National Council on Aging and the American Society on Aging in Chicago, LGBT adults suffer from social stigma, isolation, and unfair treatment. This translates into poor health, missed opportunities, and less frequent community interactions than our heterosexual counterparts.
LGBT elders may be financially stressed. Lesbian couples’ Social Security benefits average 31.5% less than straight couples’, and gay couples' benefits are 17.8% less, according to the report, which cited a 2009 study. LGBT seniors are also more likely than heterosexuals to be single, childless, and estranged from their biological families. While overall, family members provide about 80% of long-term care in the United States, gay and lesbian seniors rely on friends or what is often referred to as their “extended gay family.”
Social isolation, however, is a growing concern for LGBT elders, who are more likely than straight ones to live alone. Studies have indicated that isolation contributes to depression, poverty, frequent hospitalization, delays in seeking medical care, nutritional deficiencies, and premature death. LGBT elders also face discrimination, especially in retirement housing, with some being turned away if they are HIV-positive.
“This discrimination may separate LGBT elders from loved friends or partners, or push them into homelessness. LGBT elders may also feel the need to re-enter or stay in the closet in order to obtain or maintain housing,” the report noted.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of Americans over age 65 is expected to double over the next 30 years, from 40 million to 80 million. Depression does not discriminate when it comes to age. Everyone is at risk. It is important to remember that as we age, episodes of depression can occur in association with chronic illness, concerns about the economy, loss of loved ones, and finally the fear of death. Depression is an illness, and recognizing the symptoms is the first step toward treating it. Seeking the help of an expert physician, therapist, or other health care provider is the next.