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October 24, 2014

Combating Social Isolation Among LGBT Older Adults

Staying social is an important factor in healthy aging. An active social life gives you a sense of belonging, keeps you connected to the world around you, and benefits your health in a variety of ways.

According to “Social Isolation Among Seniors: An Emerging Issue,” older adults 65 and older consistently rank relationships with family and friends second only to health as the most important area of health. And yet, older adults are often more at risk for social isolation. According to the Social Care Institute for Excellence, an estimated 12 percent of those 65 and older report feeling isolated. This is especially true of certain groups of older adults, particularly lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals.

Why Are LGBT Older Adults More Likely to Experience Social Isolation?

According to AARP Foundation’s Isolation Impact team, LGBT adults ages 50 to 95 are at a greater risk for social isolation. This may be due to a number of factors:

  • LGBT older adults are more likely to live alone than heterosexuals: According to Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders (SAGE), LGBT older adults are twice as likely to live alone. Research has shown that both loneliness and social isolation tend to be more evident among people who have outlived family members and friends and live alone. Even more at risk are older adults who cannot drive and do not have access to readily available transportation.

  • Some LGBT older adults may struggle with economic security and poverty: Living alone may lead to less support and financial security, and studies have found poverty is as high or higher among LGBT people than heterosexual people.

  • LGBT older adults may have smaller social networks: According to SAGE, LGBT older people are twice as likely to be single and 3-4 times less likely to have children. Additionally, many are estranged from the biological families.

  • The LGBT community has a history of being discriminated against and victimized: 21 percent said they were fired from a job because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, and 13 percent said their sexual orientation resulted in inferior health care or being turned away for services. Some LGBT older people suffer from mental health concerns that come from a lifetime of discrimination.

Helping LGBT Older Adults Stay Social

There are a number of ways to in which to promote social integration and connectedness among LGBT older adults. These include:

  • Promoting a sense of purpose, such as encouraging a new hobby (which, in turn, may be inherently social in nature) or volunteer opportunity

  • Making inexpensive transportation readily available

  • Making new technological tools to help older adults stay connected with loved ones available

In addition, encourage LGBT older adults to forge new relationships with individuals and organizations who will embrace them just as they are. For example, Kendal Northern Ohio, which supports the programs and services provided by Kendal at Oberlin, Kendal at Home, and Senior Independence, operates on Quaker principles and values, welcoming individuals of any religion, race, color, and sexual orientation.

If you have an older LGBT loved one (or are an LGBT older adult yourself), know that social isolation does not have to be the reality. Proactively address the risk factors for social isolation now to encourage healthy aging.

Would you like to learn more about Kendal Northern Ohio’s Quaker Values? See our eBook, “10 Ideals of Quaker Service for Older Adults.”

Quaker Ideals


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