November is National Long-Term Care Month, and for LGBTQ individuals it's a perfect opportunity to begin planning for the future.
Many people fear the challenges presented by advancing age, and others question where to begin. Managing medical care and costs, understanding advanced directives, researching providers and long term care facilities can be overwhelming. The need for long-term care affects everyone, and a proactive approach will preserve assets, offer peace of mind, and ensure individual wishes are respected throughout life.
Long-term care refers to a set of services and supports put in place when a person becomes chronically dependent on others for personal care assistance. At that point, hands-on care may be required for one or each of these areas: bathing, toileting, dressing, eating, walking or standing.
Long-term care planning should include housing, caregiving and health services, consideration for associated financial burdens, insurance options and advanced directives. Engaging an active support team is crucial. Chosen or biological family, spouses, partners, and friends may be willing to step in and help with service coordination or caregiving.
For people who have helped an aging person, the value of pre-planning may be obvious. Witnessing firsthand the stress and anxiety that arises from making decisions under pressure is often a motivator for securing long-term care early. Waiting until health declines drastically is too late to make an informed choice. Finding trusted resources, visiting facilities & agencies, coordinating medical care, and connecting with loved ones may be infinitely more difficult from a hospital bed or rehabilitation facility.
For LGBTQ individuals, the basic question of where to live, or what doctor to see raises many concerns. Traditional settings may not be welcoming to LGBTQ individuals, couples, and support members. Medical providers and long-term care facilities often don't require diversity or LGBTQ competency training for employees, and rates of discrimination are extremely high among LGBTQ seniors in healthcare settings.
A 2011 report from National Senior Citizens Law Center found that only 22 percent of LGBTQ seniors living in long-term care facilities felt they could safely be out of the closet. The prospect of re-entering the closet for personal safety is an unwelcome one that too many LGBTQ individuals have to consider when they start thinking about long-term care support. Fortunately, with forethought and planning, the outcome can be brighter.
During November, we'll be taking an in-depth look at how LGBTQ people can effectively plan for the future by considering these primary areas:
Health Services, Caregivers and Support Team
Costs of Care & Advanced Directives
The senior population is expanding, with current estimates stating that by the year 2050 the worldwide number of people 65 years and older will triple.
LGBTQ-identified senior populations are expected to grow in the coming years, and many communities are establishing their own resources. Here in Chicago, Howard Brown Health Center and the Center on Halsted have long provided a range of services and referrals for the LGBTQ community. In addition to groups and on-site services, Center on Halsted has a Friendly Visitor program to help combat the isolation and loneliness many LGBTQ seniors experience by connecting interested volunteers with seniors in the community.
Another tool developed by Howard Brown and Center on Halsted is a "Senior Long-Term Care & Supported Living Guide," available online as a starting place for finding care environments supportive of LGBTQ people. ( www.centeronhalsted.org/Senior-Housing-Guide.pdf ).
The Internet provides a wealth of information about long-term care. For trans and gender non-conforming people of every age, the need is even more urgent, which has led to many web based initiatives for care, in addition to institutional research and advocacy groups.
SAGE ( nationwide Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders ) houses numerous resources for LGBTQ identified seniors http://www.sageusa.org/.
The Chicagoland LGBTQ Services Directory ( chicagolgbtservices.org/ ) and RAD Remedy ( radremedy.org/ ) collect provider resources for the LGBTQ community as a whole and for trans, queer and gender non-conforming people respectively.
As with any major life decisions, a long-term care plan is more likely to succeed with clearly defined goals, extensive research and advanced planning. A successful plan begins early, age 40-70, and takes into account the factors discussed above.
Consulting with an elder-care manager, elder-care attorney,or social worker can help immensely when beginning a long-term care plan.
Stay tuned throughout November to learn more!
Jacqueline Boyd is the founder of The Care Plan, a care-management and mapping company catering to the health and aging needs of Chicago's LGBTQ communities. Visit The-care-plan.com or call 630-479-0083.