New research shows LGBTI Americans are more likely to report early signs of dementia than their cisgender and straight counterparts.
One in seven LGBTI Americans reported confusion or memory problems that have been getting worse over the past year compared to one in ten in the general population.
This so-called ‘cognitive decline’ develops into Alzheimer’s, a disease accounting for 60-80% of dementia cases, in 2-7% of people annually.
Jason Flatt presented these landmark findings at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) 2019 in Los Angeles on Sunday (14 July).
He told Gay Star News this was the first time research had focused on the LGBTI community.
But, Flatt said, experts did not yet know why signs of dementia may be higher among LGBTI Americans.
He suggested, however, it may be cognitive decline’s link to mental health.
‘For instance, we know that people with depression have a 2-3 times higher risk for Alzheimer’s compared to those without depression’ he told Gay Star News.
LGBTI people are more likely to suffer mental health issues than straight, cisgender people.
The study analyzed data from 44,403 adults aged 45 and older across nine states in the U.S. Flatt told Gay Star News his research was ‘just the beginning’.
‘Unique challenges’ for LGBTI people with dementia
Tim R. Johnston, a director at LGBT seniors advocacy group SAGE, said the study showed the ‘unique challenges’ faced by older LGBTI people.
‘More research and coordination is needed to help lessen these disparities’ Johnston said.
Fiona Carragher, Chief Policy and Research Officer at the UK’s Alzheimer’s Society also welcomed the study. She echoed Flatt’s suggestion about causes.
‘There is a chance [cognitive decline] could be related to higher rates of depression, and lack of regular access to healthcare due to discrimination’ she said.
Separate research presented at the conference highlighted the different type of care LGBTI people with dementia needed.
LGBTI people are more likely to live alone, not be partnered, and have no children. Experience of discrimination prevents some LGBTI people from accessing healthcare.
‘LGBT people living with dementia and their caregivers often have difficulty accessing information and support services, which can be especially challenging when memory loss and dementia enter the equation’ said report author Fredriksen Goldsen.
Gay and living with dementia
Phil Gutis, a 57-year-old gay man living in Pennsylvania, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s three years ago.
Gutis told Gay Star News his husband noticed his dementia after Gutis woke up and said good morning to their cat, Max. A few minutes later, he then asked his husband whether he had seen Max that morning.
Gutis said he was aware of ‘additional barriers’ to accessing care as an gay man.
After 13 years together, he married his partner Tim because they knew a marriage certificate would allow Tim to provide care.
‘A domestic partner would not and does not carry the same force of law as spouse’ Gutis explained.
Gutis urged greater awareness of cognitive decline. ‘It is critical that people understand what may be facing them or their loved ones’ he said.