Remaining social is an important aspect of healthy aging. An active social life provides a sense of belonging, connects you to the world around you, and benefits your health in a variety of ways.
One study states that older adults 60 and older consistently rank relationships with family and friends second only to health as the most important issue in life. And yet, older adults are more at risk for social isolation. It is estimated that 12% of those 60 and older report feeling isolated. According to the National Institute of Health, social isolation and loneliness have been linked to higher risks for several physical and mental conditions: high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and even death.
The risk of social isolation is higher for certain groups of older adults, particularly Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer or Questioning (LGBTQ) people.
According to AARP, LGBTQ adults age 50-95 are at greater risk of social isolation. This may be due to a number of factors:
- LGBTQ older adults are more likely to live alone than heterosexuals. According to Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual & Transgender Elders (SAGE) older LGBTQ people are 3 to 4 times less likely to have children, a key support network for older adults.
- LGBTQ older adults struggle with financial insecurity at a greater degree than others. Living alone can lead to less support and entertainment options.
- The LGBTQ community has a history of being discriminated against and victimized. This can cause concern when reaching out to make new connections and friendships. While laws, beliefs, and attitudes have changed over the past 40+ years, a study of issues for older LGBTQ adults in long term care found that only 22% of LGBT respondents would feel comfortable revealing their sexual orientation or gender identity in a long term care setting.
With one study estimating that we lose half of our close relationships every seven years and another stating that making new connections and developing new friendships becomes more difficult as we age, it’s no wonder that older adults are facing isolation and loneliness. With the added burden of connecting with LGBTQ friendly people, it makes sense that older LGBTQ people experience greater isolation.
More and more avenues are opening up for LGBTQ people to connect with communities that will embrace and accept them for who they are. There are faith communities that openly welcome LGBTQ individuals, you can find accepting local LGBTQ communities at www.meetup.com. Here on the North Shore, there is North Shore Pride (www.northshorpride.org), whose mission is to promote the general welfare and unity of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community within the North Shore, and to advocate for the acceptance of the members of the LGBTQ community by the broader North Shore community. North Shore Pride engages in activities designed to promote greater understanding of LGBTQ issues by partnering with allied individuals and organizations.
North Shore Pride is celebrating Pride Month in June and has several events planned, including a Senior Pride Dance on June 24 and the North Shore Pride Festival and Parade on June 25. The full schedule on Pride Month events can be found at www.northshorepride.org or www.facebook.com/northshorepride.
A comprehensive report, “Understanding Issues Facing LGBT Older Adults,” prepared in 2017 by The Movement Advancement Project can be viewed and downloaded at https://www.lgbtmap.org/file/understanding-issues-facing-lgbt-older-adults.pdf.