There are benefits to getting older and gaining life experience. But few people enjoy the physical process of ageing. This can be particularly true for older LGBTI people.
Some of our concerns will be the same as other sections of society: Will I have enough money to get by? How do I best cope with the bereavement of a loved one?
Others are more specific to LGBTI people: What if I need carers and they turn out to be prejudiced? Will my partner be treated as my next of kin if I need hospital treatment?
Older generations grew up at a time when the world was considerably more homophobic and transphobic than it is today. They are likely to have experienced prejudice and discrimination when younger – and may still face it today.
This is an area where Age UK, the UK’s largest charity supporting people aged 50+, has a great deal of experience. The charity is sensitive to the concerns of older gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people. It launched the groundbreaking Opening Doors organization in London (now a separate charity), to help address some of these concerns.
These tend to fall into the following categories:
Money and benefits
In a survey recently undertaken by Gay Star News, money was identified as the number one fear associated with retirement by those who had not yet reached retirement age. Seventy-three per cent said they worried about how they might make ends meet when older.
Personal finances are something that everyone should think about. You might be entitled to allowances or benefits you’re not aware about. This is one area where Age UK can help with advice.
Same-sex marriage and civil unions are still a relatively new development in places such as the US and UK. Knowing how your partnership is legally recognized is important if one of you has to go into hospital, or in the event of one of you dying.
Health and wellbeing
Keeping active, eating well and moderate exercise are recommended for all, but sometimes illness is unavoidable. And when we do fall ill, will we be able to access the support we need?
Home and care
Many people struggle to accept they might need help as they get older, and find it difficult to ask for support. If you believe you could benefit from help, in the UK, you can ask for your local authority to carry out a home assessment. They can also advise on whether you’re entitled to help paying for it.
If taking care of yourself is proving particularly challenging, you may want to consider other housing options. The charity Opening Doors recently launched its Pride in Care quality standard – awarded to care providers that are sensitive to LGBTI issues. The initiative was only launched this year so is still fairly new. Hopefully, the list of LGBTI-friendly care providers will continue to grow.
Planning for the future
Sometimes we avoid planning for the future thinking it’s something we can put off indefinitely. In fact, when it comes to making a will, many people say they felt a sense of relief when they finally did so.
Sometimes we may have to allow other people to make decisions for us. For example, if we develop dementia, lose mental capacity or are in a coma. If you live in England or Wales, to protect your wishes in such cases, you need to make a Lasting Power of Attorney. Slightly different laws apply in Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Older LGBTI people are more likely to be single or live alone than heterosexual people. This can be particularly true of older gay men, who are less likely to have had children or have close immediate family.
Research published in 2011 by UK organization Stonewall found that gay and bisexual men over 55 are ‘almost three times more likely to be single than heterosexual men, 40 per cent compared to 15 per cent.’
Concerns about ageing
Last year, support organization AARP in the US ran a survey of 85,000 LGBT Americans over the age of 45. It asked them about their concerns about ageing. The top three were as follows:
- 76% expressed concern about having adequate family and social supports as they age.
- 73% could not LGBT-specific senior services. However, most were interested in accessing them.
- 60% are concerned about long-term care, with many expressing concern about potential neglect, abuse or harassment.
Sadly, fears about long-term care have some basis in reality. In May, GSN spoke to 76-year-old, London-based lesbian, Jo Planter. Jo identifies as a butch lesbian. Throughout her life, she has often worn trousers, shirts and ties. This has led to some carers to question her wardrobe, or to ask if she has a man in the house.
‘One told me I should pray to be corrected. It was horrible.’
It is issues such as these that lead people to Age UK. Typically, it takes a problem or crisis for them to seek help
‘People get in touch generally when they start to notice changes or know they need to make changes, but perhaps don’t know where to start,’ says Alasdair Stewart, Age UK’s Principal Programme Manager for Direct Service Delivery.
However, you don’t have to wait until there is a problem to seek advice or guidance.
‘It’s always the case that the earlier people contact us, the more help and assistance we can provide – and our staff on the national helpline will also do their best to pre-empt the other issues that might come up which they need to deal with.
‘So if someone is calling about a relative that is perhaps needing to move from hospital into a care home, we can send them information about care homes but we’ll also include information on the hospital discharge process – so that they understand what should be happening and what their rights and entitlements are at the different stages along the way.’
‘Less stress and worry.’
Seeking help from Age UK doesn’t mean having to visit an office or arrange an appointment.
‘I think the main misconception about Age UK is that people aren’t aware of our national advice line. Often people will be dealing with a change in circumstances without any support, and they only find out about us when they reach a crisis point. If they’d called us sooner, we could have often helped them avoid that – so although the outcome is often no different, there’s less stress and worry.’
Age UK has developed a booklet for older LGBT people entitled Navigating Later Life, which carries further advice. It’s also developed a resource for those who work with older LGBTI people, entitled Safe To Be Me.
Age UK is a client of Gay Star News.