Caregiving is both physically and emotionally demanding for any family caregiver, but those caring for LGBT loved ones may face additional challenges. There are a variety of contributing factors, ranging from fear of being judged or discriminated against, a lack of social support from family and friends, and lack of access to healthcare. This often happens when LGBT seniors resist moving to senior living communities out of fear that they won't be accepted by homosexual residents or will face ridicule. Essentially, aging sends some LGBT older adults back into the closet, despite the struggles and challenges they've overcome earlier in their lives in the process of coming out to family and friends.
The result is that many LGBT caregivers report feelings of isolation or feeling as though it's just them against the world. Many are afraid to reach out and ask for help, and grief is magnified as LGBT spouses or partners are sometimes afraid of talking about their feelings with other loved ones out of fear that they won't be understood or accepted.
Legal challenges only further complicate matters. Presently, only 19 states have legalized gay marriage. That means LGBT partners may be faced with losing their homes, losing financial and other assets, and even personal belongings if other family members are handling their partner's estate -- particularly if those family members disapproved of the relationship. When these same partners feel a lack of social support elsewhere, as well, it's not uncommon for them to shut off from the world, disengage in the activities they once enjoyed, and basically seclude themselves from the outside world for six months or more.
That's why it's so important for healthcare providers and staff at senior living communities to undergo sensitivity training. The less judgement LGBT aging adults feel as they enter their elderly years and may need to seek support or housing for help with activities of daily living, the more likely they will be to make use of these resources. But even more important is for anyone with a LGBT friend or loved one to reach out and offer a helping hand, to provide support and compassion, to help spouses and partners successfully manage their grief after the loss of a loved one.
Caregiving is challenging for anyone. No one should have to go through it alone. For more information on the challenges facing LGBT caregivers, read this article.
Image via Flickr by r. nial bradshaw