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February 25, 2016

Why LGBT Older Adults Should Come Out to Their Doctors


Long before Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis refused to provide marriage licenses to same-sex couples, there was the “lavender scare” in the 1950s when thousands of gay government employees were dismissed from their jobs after it was determined they would be “security risks.”

While not the beginning of LGBT discrimination in America, the lavender scare helped perpetuate the notion that LGBT individuals were “different” and “a risk.” And as children and young adults during this time, it is understandable that older LGBT adults today would choose to keep their sexual orientation to themselves. There is someone, however, who should know about their sexual orientation: Their doctor.

LGBT Older Adults Have Unique Healthcare Needs

Unlike their heterosexual counterparts, older LGBT adults face four big differences in their healthcare: access to healthcare, HIV/AIDS, mental health and chronic physical conditions.

Why is this? HIV diagnoses for those over 50 are on the rise, and while there is plenty of HIV/AIDS educational information for younger adults, almost nothing is targeted to older adults. LGBT individuals, regardless of age, face higher levels of stress, which can lead to issues with smoking, alcohol or drug abuse. And finally, LGBT individuals are more likely to delay testing and screening for certain diseases.

Finding the Right Doctor for Your Needs

If you’re an LGBT older adult, you know the key to good healthcare is an open and honest relationship with a healthcare provider. Not only can a provider give more personalized and relevant care, he or she can also make referrals to LGBT-friendly resources, if needed.

Referrals can help older adults find the right provider. Friends or LGBT centers can have recommendations on where to start. Or online, search the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association healthcare directory.

When you find someone you like and are ready for an appointment, call and ask if the practice serves any LGBT patients, whether they are knowledgeable about LGBT health issues, and if they accept your insurance plan.

If you’ve spoken with someone at the practice, and liked what you have heard, visit the facility. Observe the atmosphere and take note of any gay and lesbian materials that may be in the waiting area. The practice’s website is another good place to look for information about whether it openly supports LGBT individuals.

What to Discuss With Your Doctor

You’ve done the research, vetted a few practices and now it’s time to speak with your doctor. Starting the conversation can be difficult, especially if you’re used to not disclosing information about your sexuality. Some possible conversation starters could be:

  • “I need to have a conversation with you.”
  • “I’d like to introduce you to my partner.”
  • “I have some questions for you.”

Lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgendered older adults all have different health needs. Lesbians should inquire about breast and gynecological cancer, depression and anxiety, heart health and sexual health. Gay men should discuss HIV/AIDS and safe sex, hepatitis screenings, HPV virus screenings, and depression and anxiety. Bisexual individuals should discuss many of the above issues including STD transmission, safe sex, depression and anxiety and HPV screenings. Transgendered individuals should discuss their health history, any hormones they are or will be taking, STDs and safe sex and mental health.

Having an open relationship with your healthcare provider allows you to not only keep tabs on your health, but can protect you from chronic diseases, allowing you to live your most fulfilling life possible.

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