The U.S. population is aging rapidly and becoming more diverse as the baby boomers age.
The number of older adults who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) is also projected to increase along with the age wave.
Unfortunately, many LGBT seniors face special challenges when it comes to caregiving.
In 2012, a team of local researchers conducted a survey of 495 LGBT older adults.
The results of the Twin Cities LGBT Aging Needs Assessment showed that Minnesota’s LGBT boomers and older adults are more likely to be caregivers, less likely to have caregivers, less likely to have children and more likely to live alone.
Fewer than 1 in 5 adults surveyed said they believed they would receive the best possible services if a provider knew they were members of the LGBT community.
Such fears can keep LGBT seniors from seeking services and can make their situations worse.
Many providers of aging services, however, are seeing this demographic and diversity shift as an opportunity to expand people-centered approaches that look at families in different ways:
Families of origin, sometimes called biological families, are families made up of people who are biologically related to one another. Families-of-origin caregivers might be daughters, sons, wives, husbands, etc.
While most survey respondents’ said their families would be accepting of their LGBT identity, 10 percent reported that their families of origin would not be accepting, which could complicate caregiving arrangements.
Families of choice, meanwhile, sometimes called constructed families, are made up of people individuals choose. These may include blood relatives, as well as friends, neighbors and coworkers. More than 75 percent of assessment respondents reported having a chosen family.
While state and federal laws recognize relationships of families of origin, relying on non-traditional caregivers from chosen families may require legal planning including naming individuals to make decisions in the event of incapacity — powers of a orney, health-care directives and more.
The recent assessment of older adults also showed that the LGBT community and the rest of the population actually may have some things in common, too: Younger boomers and Generation Xers had fewer children — who could be potential future caregivers — and therefore may also commonly rely on caregivers to whom they aren’t biologically related.
The definition of a “family caregiver” is evolving rapidly as the aging population becomes more diverse.
Rajean Moone is the executive director of Training to Serve of St. Paul. He has more than 15 years experience working as a planner and program coordinator of aging services.