THE SENIOR CORNER - JIM MEADOWS 12/10/2017
Everybody loves imagining all the fun they will have during their first year of retirement, but nobody wants to think about what comes later. Let’s face it: the thought of eventually being in a nursing home isn’t exactly daydream material. For LGBT people, the anxieties around that possibility are even stronger. It’s time we confront our fears head-on, and the first step is looking at some of the facts. Some of them are stark, but bear with me. I promise it gets better by the end!
The average cost for retirees is $40,938 per year. The stereotype of gay people being rich notwithstanding, LGBT elders are more likely to live in poverty than their straight and cisgender peers. They are more likely to live alone, and more likely to feel isolated. The primary caretakers for most older adults tend to be their children, but LGBT people are less likely to have them, and there’s less social pressure on friends to become caretakers. For those reasons, LGBT elders may be more likely to rely on nursing homes for their long-term care.
The majority of LGBT elders feel that they cannot be open with the staff of long-term care facilities about their sexual orientation or gender identity. They report verbal and even physical harassment by their peers and staff in nursing homes. Others report refusal of admission, abrupt discharge, restriction of visitors, intentional misgendering, and even denial of basic care. A matched-pair study found that nearly half of self-identified lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults who enquirer about admission to senior housing communities “experienced unfavorable differential treatment in terms of availability of housing, pricing, financial incentives, amenities, or application requirements.”
Now that I’ve thoroughly depressed you, I’m going to give you a suggestion that’s going to have you humming “Thank You for Being a Friend” by the end of this article. A way to mitigate – or even completely avoid – all the above problems has been right under our noses since 1985. You guessed it: Dorothy, Blanche, Rose and Sofia enjoyed the kind of retirement most people only dream of. Split living expenses, great social support, funny friends who make chicken soup and sit with you at your sick bed, and even some hot date nights. The Golden Girls knew that shared housing is the way to go for those who can find the right roommates.
You may already have the perfect combination of your friends for this setup in mind. Or maybe your social support system needs an overhaul. New Orleans Advocates for GLBT Elders (NOAGE) provides regular social events for LGBT older adults – and their allies of all ages – including Coffee Talks, Movie Nights, a Potluck Club, and more that will be starting very soon. These events are the perfect way to meet new friends, and start building your social network.
Start a conversation with your friends about the idea of shared housing in your Golden Years. Find out who might be interested, and then start thinking about the when, where, and how of it. What age do you all plan to retire? Is there a part of town you all could agree to live in? What would be your shared expenses and budget? Those are just some of the questions you can start answering together now.
Assume that you and your friends will need a hired caretaker at least some of the time. Even with healthy friends or family around, there may be times when you need extra help. Reach out to an elder care home service provider like Home Instead to find out about the kind of services you might need and the costs involved.
NOAGE is working to educate local healthcare providers on the unique needs of LGBT older adults. We’ve trained several hundred healthcare professionals since the launch of our LGBT Elders Provider Network this past January. On December 2nd, we partnered with Ochsner Pride to host a day-long Symposium on LGBT Health and Aging that was well attended and very well-received by the healthcare professionals who attended. But we still have a lot of work to do, and most of the long-term care facilities in New Orleans are very much in need of LGBT cultural competency training. (If you’re in a position to help us get a foot in the door of any local long-term care facilities, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
In the meantime, start reaching out to your BFFs now to plan a get-together to start working out a plan that will work for all of you. Don’t forget the cheesecake!