According to a 2017 Gallup poll, the percentage of American adults identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) increased to 4.5% from the previous year. While confidentiality concerns may skew these numbers, that amounts to millions of Americans. Senior living facilities are recognizing the demand. Many of them are making sure those in the LGBT community have a safe and welcoming place to live out their golden years. Even more promising, there’s a growing number of facilities that cater specifically to LGBT residents.
For LGBT seniors actively looking for an assisted living community to call home, there are more LGBT-friendly choices available in today’s market than ever before. In this blog, we’ll discuss the challenges facing LGBT older adults, the benefits of assisted living, and how to find an ideal facility for your needs.
Recognizing the Challenges for LGBT Older Adults
Before we discuss assisted living specifically, it’s important to recognize how a lifetime of discrimination has resulted in fewer senior living options for LGBT older adults, either because of poor health or insufficient retirement savings.
It’s a sad fact that LGBT people face a disproportionate amount of employment discrimination. This reduces their access to employer-provided health insurance and creates financial insecurity. Both scenarios can result in LGBT seniors foregoing preventative healthcare – making treatable issues worse over time. Even when healthcare is available, there are hurdles. Discrimination is common the healthcare industry. Several studies have shown that older LGBT adults have more health problems, both physical and behavioral, than straight individuals with equivalent income. It’s also important to note that social isolation and a lack of family or community support can negatively impact the mental and physical health of LGBT seniors.
Most significantly, many federal and state laws made it difficult for LGBT seniors to access entitlement and safety net programs that married straight Americans could access. While the historic Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision in 2015 has removed many of these barriers, there’s still much to be done.
As you begin the search for senior living options, be sure to check out the AARP’s list of service and advocacy organizations for LGBT seniors seeking professional and competent care. In addition, here are two additional organizations that support the unique needs and aging issues of the LGBT senior community.
The Benefits of Assisted Living
The assisted living facilities of today are much different than those of the past. Many seniors have negative misconceptions. You might imagine stark hospital rooms, unpleasant food, and community rooms with rocking chairs. Today’s assisted living communities couldn’t be further from that unwelcoming image. They’re designed for seniors who want an independent lifestyle, beautiful living environment, and plenty of amenities to improve their quality of life. In an LGBT-friendly assisted living community, you’ll also have the relief of knowing that you don’t have to step back into the closet just because you’re transitioning to a new phase in your life.
By downsizing into assisted living, you can remove the worry of unexpected household expenses and have more time to enjoy your retirement. Imagine having someone else take care of your housekeeping and laundry. You can choose the residence that suits your lifestyle. You can also rest easy knowing that your apartment was specifically designed for safety and mobility.
Assisted living communities offer three nutritious meals each day, catered for specific medical conditions and needs. Often, there are healthy snacks available in between meals. In some communities, you’ll find restaurant-style dining rooms where friends and family can join you for a meal. Imagine the ease of having a hot meal placed in front of you each day.
Health and Wellness
Health and wellness programs are available to help you stay mobile and independent. Most facilities offer classes geared toward all levels of ability – from chair yoga to Tai Chi for balance. With easy access and an ongoing calendar of events, you can increase your physical activity and overall health. Assisted living facilities can also ensure you’re taking medications as prescribed and offer transportation to medical appointments. Many facilities also have a visiting doctor and a nurse on staff.
Whether it’s necessary yet or not, having access to trained professionals who can assist with personal care can ease your mind. Assisted living communities have staff who can help with daily activities like bathing, dressing, grooming, medication management, walking or using a wheelchair. Knowing that the facility is LGBT-friendly will ensure that every staff member treats you respectfully.
Assisted living communities are carefully designed to be exactly what you need. They’re optimally located to be near shopping and medical facilities, with transportation to get you there safely. Many have hair salons, libraries, entertainment, fitness centers, gardens, and computer facilities right on the campus.
There are many seniors who may feel understandably apprehensive about moving to a new assisted living facility after carving out their own life surrounded by other LGBT individuals and allies. With these LGBT-friendly assisted living facilities, seniors can move to a new home, access a new network of friends and neighbors and they don’t have to worry about being accepted.
There are so many changes that seniors go through when they move from living independently to an assisted living community. Some may feel isolation, loneliness and depression during this phase in their lives. If their new assisted living facility isn’t welcoming and doesn’t promote social interactions, it can only increase the chances of succumbing to these feelings. Ensuring that the community is supportive of LGBT seniors is one of the best ways to prevent this problem.
Finding a LGBT Assisted Living Community
Unfortunately, even in today’s day and age, there are many seniors who feel uncomfortable or unwelcomed in traditional assisted living facilities, as some of their peers may not be as open to LGBT rights. Here are a few ways you can find the ideal living situation.
While this isn’t always an option, it’s worth noting that certain cities are more LGBT friendly. Look for assisted living communities in these cities, widely regarded as a great place to retire for LGBT folks.
- Austin, Texas – With its mantra “Keep Austin Weird,” you know this is a fun city. Austin is a moderate-liberal city in the heart of one of the nation’s most conservative states. Austin offers small town charm and tons of live music venues.
- Atlanta, Georgia – As one of the most influential cities in the Southern United States, Atlanta has much to offer. It’s hard to single out one aspect that defines the city due to its dynamic nature. However, you’ll find a thriving cultural scene, rich historical heritage, sports and entertainment mecca, along with some southern charm.
- Phoenix, Arizona – Phoenix offers more than just a beautiful setting, Arizona State University creates a fun college town atmosphere. Warm winters and a lack of humidity are obviously a big attraction. You’ll also find plentiful recreation opportunities like golf, tennis, swimming, and hiking.
- Orlando, Florida – Would you like to live like you’re always on vacation? Orlando is home to seven of the world’s top theme parks. About 72 million travelers visit the city each year, making it the top tourist destination in the United States. Plus, Orlando was ranked #1 by WalletHub’s Best Places to Retire.
- Tampa, Florida – People love Tampa because of the climate (not as hot as southern Florida), its location on the water, many sports teams and recreational opportunities, and friendly people. The city has every type of cultural resource such as theatres, museums of all kinds, and a vibrant city life.
How to Identify Options
As a starting point, check out our blog 15 of the best LGBT senior living communities. These are all across the United States but will give you a sense of what’s out there and what they offer. Look for how they create a welcoming atmosphere, so you can compare to traditional assisted living communities.
Until there are more widespread options specifically for LGBT seniors, you may need to evaluate traditional assisted living facilities for their ability to create an LGBT-friendly environment. Look for visual, verbal, and physical cues that openness is valued and promoted in the community. Pictures of men and women together are good signs, as is inclusive language on forms that acknowledge same-sex partnerships and families of choice. Ideally, you’d like to see policies displayed prominently in the lobby and on the website that it’s a nondiscriminatory facility. Here are some questions to ask as you begin comparing facilities:
- How many openly LGBT individuals live in your community?
- Have there been any issues with your staff or other residents related to LGBT residents?
- Do you have any restrictions on cohabitation?
- What is the diversity of your staff?
- How do you handle complaints about discrimination?
- How do you train staff to be respectful and understanding of LGBT residents?
Check out online overviews and reviews on third-party sites. While you might talk to a community and their answers appear perfect, it's vital to get feedback from individuals who have experienced their services first-hand. Ask your doctor, family, friends, neighbors about their experiences, or if they have recommendations.
Find out if the assisted living community has received SAGECare training. The New York-based Services and Advocacy for LGBT Elders (SAGE) established its SAGECare training program for seniors housing and senior care providers, centered on LGBT cultural competency. SAGECare involves a four-hour intensive training for upper management, as well as one-hour in-person/online training programs for frontline caregivers and staff. The program has several designations: a bronze-level indicates that 25% of a community or provider’s staff has undergone training, while a platinum designation shows that 80% of staff has been trained under the program. Topics range from bias reduction to programs that center on transgender aging, according to Johnston. SAGE has trained approximately 20,000 providers, with more than 150 agencies receiving a SAGECare credential.
While there are still many areas of the country that need LGBT assisted living facilities, it doesn't mean that there aren't great places for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender seniors to live during this new phase of life.