Senior couple

Health needs change for everyone as they get older. For members of the LGBTQ+ community, those shifting needs may differ from the needs of others. It’s important to know about LGBTQ+ resources for older people and how to find support for LGBTQ+ seniors.

The community of aging LGBTQ+ people may be larger than expected. About 4 million LGBTQ+ people in the United States are age 55 or older.

The Importance of Support for LGBTQ Seniors

Knowing your health care rights and how to find support can help ensure that you get the health care you need and deserve.

That starts with making sure your doctor is aware of your gender identity and sexual orientation so they can tailor care to your needs. Talk with your doctor to be sure they are familiar with and comfortable in meeting your specific needs.

One reason LGBTQ+ seniors may need different support than younger people is the way attitudes and norms have changed over the years. Older members of the LGBTQ+ community may have experienced more discrimination, prejudice, and stigma than their younger counterparts.

The trauma and stress of a lifetime of stigma or discrimination can take a toll on anyone’s health. LGBTQ+ adults may not have had access to appropriate and respectful health care for much of their lives. Because of these factors, it’s even more important for older LGBTQ+ adults to have supportive communities and resources that address their needs.

Research shows that older LGBTQ+ adults are less likely to take advantage of medical and community services than other older adults. For example, LGBTQ+ seniors are less likely to use visiting nurses, food stamps, senior centers, and meal plans.

The Risks of Isolation

Older LGBTQ+ adults are more likely to live alone than others their age, according to the National LGBT Health Education Center. They are also half as likely to have a partner or close relatives they can call for help. Older LGBTQ+ adults are 4 times less likely than straight people their age to have children who can help them.

These factors make isolation a greater risk for older LGBTQ+ adults. Not having a support network can make that isolation even worse. Over time, isolation can increase the risk of depression, loneliness, and anxiety.

LGBTQ+ adults may also have a harder time finding respectful and inclusive long-term care. Some long-term care centers may not allow same-sex partners to room together or respect a person’s gender identity.

These centers may also not allow a person’s “chosen family” to participate in medical decisions. Chosen family are people who provide you with the unconditional love and support a family would. Chosen families are important to LGBTQ+ people whose families rejected them.

These factors make it especially important to find the support LGBTQ+ adults need.

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Finding the Support You Need

When looking for a new doctor, call ahead to ask questions. You’ll want to make sure the office and its staff and providers offer a welcoming and inclusive environment.

When you arrive for your appointment, make sure the staff knows your correct name and pronouns. If a staff member or provider makes a mistake and uses the wrong name or pronouns, gently correct them. Their response will hopefully confirm that they will provide the welcoming, inclusive, and respectful environment you need.

Make sure your doctor has your complete medical history and family history so they can individualize your care. For example, knowing of previous gender affirming surgeries can help them ensure you receive the appropriate cancer screenings.

It’s also helpful for your doctor to know about your personal support network since it may not be your family. If you don’t have a personal support network, talk to your doctor about social and community support resources for older LGBTQ+ people.

Your sexual health needs may also change as you grow older. Be sure your doctor is aware of your sexual history and behavior as well as any questions or problems you have. LGBTQ+ people can continue having a fulfilling sex life as they age.

How UPMC Supports LGBTQ+ Seniors

At UPMC, we aim to give patients the respectful care and support they need to lead healthy, fulfilling lives. Our Resources for LGBTQ+ Patients and Caregivers page gives an overview of what we offer.

UPMC has specialists who can provide the following care:

  • Primary care for LGBTQ+ adults.
  • Gender-affirming primary care for transgender and nonbinary adults.
  • Birth control.
  • HIV/STI counseling and testing.
  • Vaccines.
  • Gender-affirming medicine treatment.
  • Gender-affirming ob-gyn care.
  • Women’s health.
  • Fertility counseling, preservation, and other services.
  • Anal cytology and/or pap.
  • HIV care.
  • Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
  • Family planning.
  • Breast augmentation.
  • Vaginoplasty (creation of a vagina).
  • Orchiectomy (removal of testicles).
  • Chest masculinization.
  • Hysterectomy.
  • Puberty blockers for transgender children and adolescents.
  • Child and adolescent psychiatry and therapy.

Additional LGBTQ+ Resources for Older People

The following resources can help you understand your health care rights, what health care you might need, and where you can find support.

Sources

Advocacy and Services for LGBTQ Elders (SAGE). Link

Caring for LGBT Older Adults. The National LGBT Health Education Center. Link

Grace Birnstengel. A Look at the Lives of Trans and Gender Nonconforming Older Adults. NextAvenue. April 20, 2018. Link

Know Your Rights: Health Care. National Center for Transgender Equality. Link

LGBT and Dementia. Alzheimer's Association. Link

About UPMC

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 700 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations in central and western Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals.