POZlife

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Gay Seniors Depend On Social Networks When Ill

Posted by pozlife on January 3, 2008

010208s
by 365Gay.com Newscenter Staff

Posted: January 2, 2008 – 2:00 pm ET

(New York City) Older gay, lesbian and bisexual adults have "a history of caregiving" that creates networks of people who support each other during their senior years, according to a new study.

The study of 199 LGB seniors found that more than two-thirds of the participants had provided care to one or more people during the previous five years.

"These findings contradict old myths about elderly gay people leading lonely lives of quiet desperation," said Dr. Robert-Jay Green, executive director of the Rockway Institute, a national center for LGBT research and public policy.

"LGB seniors create vibrant communities of care that overcome the difficulties posed by discrimination or by greater levels of rejection from their biological families."

The study was conducted by Arnold H. Grossman and Eliza Dragowski of New York University, and Anthony D’Augelli of Pennsylvania State University and was published in the Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services.

The sample of LGB adults was aged 40 to 85 and was recruited from agencies providing services to LGB elders in New York City and Los Angeles. About one-quarter of participants were age 40 to 59; the remaining three-quarters were 60 years or older.

The group was highly educated, with 63 percent having completed a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

Participants were asked about their history of giving and receiving care. Other questions dealt with their physical and mental health; their feelings about homosexuality, stress, social support, coping skills; and their perceptions of the burdens and benefits of caregiving.

Thirty-eight percent of participants reported they had received care from others (who were not health-care professionals) during the previous five years.

Sixty-seven percent had provided care to others. The illnesses for which participants provided care were HIV/AIDS 30 percent; cancer 29 percent; muscular/skeletal illnesses 21 percent; cardiovascular disease 19 percent and other chronic illnesses associated with aging 26 percent.

Having received help was strongly related to providing help.

Of those who had received help, 76 percent had taken care of others.

Of those who had not received help, 60 percent had taken care of others.

More than three-quarters stated that they were willing to provide care to LGB people in the future.

The researchers observed that networks of support are especially significant for LGB seniors, who may be physically or emotionally distant from their biological family, may be closeted, or may fear or suffer discrimination based on their sexual orientation.

Many of the LGB seniors may not know for certain who will provide care in a crisis, or they face financial issues because they are not covered under partner health plans as would be true for married heterosexual couples.

"These results provide a glimpse of the social networks urban LGB seniors have established to cope with homophobia in their communities, rejection from their families, exclusion from the financial benefits of marriage, and in most cases, absence of children to take care of them in old age," said Green.

"Some social theorists have even referred to these peer networks as ’families of choice’ because of the closeness and interconnected reciprocity of care involved. Thus, the results of the current study refute the old stereotype that LGB people are destined for empty lives and lonely deaths as they age. Indeed, these findings reveal the opposite a remarkable ’culture of care’ among LGB seniors."

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