Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people aged 50 and over have worse physical and mental health, poorer access to health and social care and greater levels of isolation and loneliness due to a lifetime of prejudice and stigma, a new study has found.
The analysis, based on 24 surveys involving 800 men and 700 women, demonstrates that the odds of LGBT men and women experiencing poorer health poor self-rate health are around 1.2 times higher than for heterosexual people.
Nearly all surveys revealed homophobia, transphobia, heteronormativity, invisibility, or a denial of older people’s sexuality and identity in social care settings.
In some instances, care staff refused to acknowledge or miscategorised same-sex relationships.
The report ‘Raising the equality flag: Health inequalities among older LGBT people in the UK’, was published by think tank the International Longevity Centre UK (ILC) and based on a project conducted by researchers at the University College London and Cardiff University.
Dr Brian Beach, Senior Research Fellow, ILC, said: “It is disheartening that in 2019 we continue to see health inequalities between older LGBT people and their heterosexual and cisgender peers.”
“We need to see action now to build on the NHS’s pledge to end discrimination in health and care across the country. We must also enhance our understanding of the needs of the older LGBT community. Health and care staff must be trained to ensure that they are not directly or indirectly discriminating against older LGBT people.”
The report spoke of the ‘minority stress theory’, which relates to the idea that people from disadvantaged or marginalised backgrounds experience long-term stress as a result of factors associated with such an identity.
In the context of LGBT ageing, the idea is that poorer health outcomes stem from the negative social climate that they can experience or may have experienced in the past. In other words, the consequences of prejudice and stigma have an impact that manifests in worse physical and mental health.
For LGBT people reaching later life, such experiences may have occurred across several years.
Some participants in the study described challenges in accessing health care that appropriately deals with their sexual identity; one study found that 18% of older LGBT people would feel uncomfortable disclosing their sexual orientation to their GP.
Mental health issues, particularly around suicide, were identified among older LGBT people, especially among transgender and bisexual women and those living in rural areas.
And the risk of loneliness and social isolation increased among LGBT people, where resources for them to meet and socialise with other members of the community were not available or accessible.