What Happened to the Welcome Mat? Nursing Homes and Gay Elders

old hands
Photographer:Lisa Edmonds

Living in a nursing home is not easy. When you are gay, it can be so much more complicated. Unless you're at a progressive long-term care facility, staff (and fellow residents) may act less than warm and fuzzy, the Nursing Home Reform Act notwithstanding.

Put simply, you or your visiting partner, if you're lucky enough to have one, may not feel welcome. State laws that deny LGBT couples the same benefits as married heterosexuals reinforce their frustrating situation.

Many older gays - even those who might have led an openly LGBT life when they were younger - are so fearful about shabby treatment at nursing homes or assisted living that they hide their sexual orientation.

Their concern may be justified. A 2010 national survey of 769 gay elders, care providers, and family members found that 328 of those interviewed reported 853 incidents of mistreatment; just 22% felt they could be open with staff about sexual orientation or gender identity. More bad news: more than three-quarters said they would not disclose their LGBT status should they wind up in institutional care.

The Administration on Aging reports that between 1.7 to 4 million Americans age 60+ are LGBT. Undoubtedly, some will be entering nursing homes. This demographic is more likely to live alone, have no children and may have less-than-close relationships with their families. No wonder many older gay men and women feel isolated.

So, some gay adults have decided they're more comfortable with others who "get it," and are moving into LGBT retirement communities. There are less than a dozen nationwide, including Rainbow Vista in Gresham, OR and Rainbow Vision in Santa Fe, NM (in bankruptcy but residents live there). Fountaingrove Lodge in Santa Ana, CA, which has all levels of eldercare, is expected to be completed next year.

Increasingly, there's discussion about how to make life better for the older LGBT demographic (nursing staff sensitivity training, education and advocacy). Out now is a new, one-hour documentary called " Gen Silent" that is making the rounds across the country and should further expose viewers to the concerns of LGBT elders. Written by award-winning director Stu Maddux, "Gen Silent" profiles six gay elders and those who care for them.

Want to see it? If you happen to be in Lafayette, IN August 17th, or Scotland August 24th, you can watch it there. Otherwise, it's being screened in various states in September, October and November. If you're not in the right place at the right time, watch the trailer (above).

For more information, take a look at the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging, a project of SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders).

Photo credit: Lisa Edmonds via Flickr.

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