In July, the first dementia prevalence data from a large population of LGB older adults was released by researchers from the University of California at the 2018 Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Chicago. After following 3,718 LGB adults age 60-plus for nine years, the data revealed dementia in 7.4 percent of the participants.
As we acknowledge World Alzheimer’s Month, this new data, along with the prevalence of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias in the 65-plus general public, highlights the need for effective outreach and accessible healthcare services for all people suffering with Alzheimer’s, including the special needs of specific populations.
While the LGBT community faces many of the same age-related health challenges as everyone else, those who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s often have additional obstacles to overcome. They are more likely to be unmarried and live alone, and far less likely to have children. For heterosexuals, children often are the ones who notice early signs of dementia in their parents and arrange for their care. Planning for the future while the person with dementia is still able to do so can avoid turmoil and family disagreements later on.
Situations often are made worse by the fact that LGBT people are more likely than heterosexuals to delay reaching out for support services for fear of the dual stigma of being LGBT and having dementia. Their reluctance to seek care can lead to isolation and related health problems, such as cardiovascular disease and alcohol abuse. In short, Alzheimer’s is a downward trajectory for those who are afflicted and takes an enormous toll on their caregivers.
To begin meeting the needs of this growing population in Broward County, Our Fund and the Alzheimer’s Association of South Florida have formed an important new partnership. Working together, we are establishing LGBT community support groups where caregivers and people afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease can find comfort, speak freely and connect with the resources they need. The first step in our action plan is the training of knowledgeable support group facilitators who are sensitive to the pressing needs of caregivers and patients alike, including challenges that are unique to LGBT people. Such support groups are not currently available and we believe they will make a huge difference in the lives of people who otherwise would be struggling alone.
Prior to the California study, little was documented about the prevalence of dementia in the LGBT community, and while the study is a good start, more research is needed to better evaluate the needs of the community and the best solutions. According to AARP, 24.5 percent of Broward County residents – one in four -- will be 65 and older by 2040. The County’s 80-84 population will grow 73 percent by 2030 and the 85-plus sector will grow almost 32 percent. We know that the prevalence of Alzheimer’s increases with age. As our local communities become more senior and we grapple with a deficit of services, innovative collaborations among people who care, such as the Alzheimer’s Association of South Florida and Our Fund, are most likely to lead the way.
David Jobin is president and CEO of Our Fund Foundation. Our Fund secures the LGBT community’s future by promoting and increasing responsible philanthropy, strengthening community organizations and their leaders, and connecting donors to causes that matter. For more information, visit Our-Fund.org.