By Cathy Croghan
In the 1990s when I first started talking with friends about aging, I’d often get yawns or quizzical looks. Some folks would make a joke about the “old lesbians’ home” and occasionally, a theoretical conversation about buying a large Summit Avenue home for communal living and shared expenses. Old age was far away and hard to consider. However, today it is staring us in the face and I find it is much easier to sustain conversations about “next steps”, retirement plans, and getting ready.
Fortunately, the Twin Cities have a variety of resources to help GLBT older adults get ready to age successfully. Many take their rationale from the findings of the 2002 and 2012 Twin Cities GLBT Aging Needs Assessment Surveys (http://www.pfundonline.org/reports.html), which found that the majority of respondents:
- preferred using service providers that had GLBT sensitivity training
- preferred aging services that were GLBT-welcoming rather than GLBT-specific
- preferred GLBT-specific support groups
The 2012 report also found that GLBT older adults compared with the larger Twin Cities community were:
- Nearly twice as likely to be a caregiver
- Less likely to have a caregiver
- Half as likely to have children
- More likely to have completed a health care directive
- More likely to live alone
- Nearly twice as likely to be a community volunteer
And, less than one in five believed they would receive sensitive care if their GLBT identity were known.
Both local and national research demonstrates that most GLBT older adults are aging well. However, pockets of risk remain in our community. GLBT older adults have high levels of self-reported poor general health, disability, and mental distress compared to the heterosexual population. The older transgender population experiences even higher rates. These disparities combined, with greater isolation resulting from living alone and aging without adult children, point to the necessity for each of us individually, and for our community as a whole, to get ready to successfully age.
So what are we doing to get ready?
Provider Training: The 2002 needs assessment survey told us the community wanted providers that had been trained on working with GLBT clients. Other research found local senior service providers did not feel confident working with GLBT clients. In response, representatives from the Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging, University of Minnesota, GLBT community members, and the Minnesota Department of Human Services helped to develop Training to Serve (TTS), an organization dedicated to providing education, tools, and resources to improve the quality of life for GLBT people as they age. To date TTS has trained more than 4,000 senior service professionals on working with GLBT clients (www.TrainingtoServe.org).
Caregiver Support Group: The needs assessment also indicated a community preference for GLBT-specific support groups. Wilder Caregiver Services is currently designing a GLBT Caregiver’s Group and invites GLBT caregivers and those passionate about GLBT caregiving and aging to join them in co-creating this group. Next planning sessions are August 4 & 25, 5:30, at Wilder Center, 451 Lexington Pkwy., N. St. Paul, MN 55104. For more information, contact Kirsten Johnson at [email protected] or 651-280-2492.
Housing: Some things just take time. Housing is certainly one of them. Fourteen years after it was first discussed in a Spirit of the Lakes UCC discussion group, the Spirit on Lake affordable apartment community opened its doors. This beautiful new construction is open to all, welcoming to GLBT elders, and located in Minneapolis on the corner of East Lake Street and 13th Ave. S. To learn more, contact Kathleen Tully at [email protected] or go to www.premierhousingmanagement.com
Medicare Information Sessions: Is Medicare in your future? Need more information? Check out the individual counseling sessions held at Quatrefoil Library on Medicare and other health insurance options. To make an appointment, call the Senior LinkAge Line at 800-333-2433. These sessions are offered through Quatrefoil’s Aging Out at the Library program (www.qlibary.org) in partnership with the Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging. Note: Quatrefoil Library is located on the first floor of the Spirit on Lake apartment building (see Housing above).
Friendly Visiting: Need a visitor to brighten up your day? Looking for a volunteer opportunity? Check out the friendly visiting opportunities made possible through a partnership between Prime Timers and Little Brothers—Friends of the Elderly, and partially funded by the Greater Twin Cities United Way and PFund Aging Initiative. You can learn more at: [email protected], www.littlebrothersmn.org, or call 612-721-6215.
BoomerTown at Pride: Twin Cities Pride now has a dedicated area in Loring Park that specifically caters to the interests and needs of GLBTQ Seniors at Pride. Organizations at 2014 Pride included AARP Twin Cities Pride, Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly, Prime Timers, Ebenezer Homes, Jewish Family Service of St. Paul, Metro Meals on Wheels, MNsure, Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging, Right at Home, Store to Door, Training To Serve, and Volunteers of America/RSVP.
Information and Assistance: We have two great resources at our fingertips. www.MinnesotaHelp.info is an online directory of services designed to help people in Minnesota find health care providers, human services, information and referrals, financial assistance, and other forms of help, and includes GLBT headings in its database. The Senior LinkAge Line at 800-333-2433 is a one stop shop for Minnesota seniors including information about programs, services and supports for long term care options counseling, insurance and Medicare, and much more. Both of these resources have trained their staff in working with GLBT older adults.
As a public health nurse working on GLBT aging, I am often asked to make referrals to GLBT-welcoming resources. For many years, there was not a good answer. While there were welcoming individual staff members within larger organizations, there was no way to identify whole organizations that were safe and welcoming options for GLBT older adults and their families. Times have changed. Our community has done, and is doing, the hard work of getting ready for the rapidly expanding aging population
When you read through the resources mentioned above, you see a long list of main-stream, well-known organizations (e.g., Greater Twin Cities United Way, Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging, AARP Minnesota, Wilder Foundation) partnering with the GLBT community to make welcoming services available. These are groups with long histories, deep resources, and a genuine interest in seeing all Minnesotans age successfully. Part of getting our community ready for aging is finding out who is doing the work of preparing the larger community for aging and asking to be included. So far, we appear to be doing a good job on this.
In closing, you may remember that the 2012 needs assessment survey found our community members volunteering at a rate twice that of the larger Twin Cities population. Let’s harness that for good. Find a place to get involved. For those of us on the older end of the spectrum, volunteering helps reduce isolation, one of the greatest hazards of aging. In helping others, you will help yourself get ready for successful aging… Ready is better.
Cathy Croghan, is a geriatric community health consultant, researcher and public health nurse. She frequently publishes and speaks on topics related to elder health and safety. Cathy co-founded and currently serves on the Training to Serve Board of Directors.