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Fear of Discrimination can Cause LGBT Seniors to Isolate More, Fail to get Medical Care

Chalmers Butterfield

Health disparities between white America and racial and ethnic minorities are well-documented.  The American Psychological Association says those disparities continue into the senior years – with minorities less likely to get medical help – and more likely to face chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes.   But race isn’t the only determining factor for seniors who struggle with access to adequate health care.

In the United States, there are at least 1.5 million lesbian, gay, and bisexual people who are 65 and older.  In New Hanover County, local LGBT advocates estimate the number of same-sex couples has increased at four times the rate of the overall population during the years from 2000 to 2010. 

Dr. Angela Wadsworth teaches the Sociology of Aging at UNCW; she’s also a board member of Sage Wilmington, an advocacy group for LGBT seniors.  She say it’s not uncommon for LGBT people to feel uncomfortable being honest when dealing with home health care providers or physicians in medical settings.

"One thing, unfortunately, that we’re seeing, and this is a national thing, is that as LGBT people age and reach the point where they do need to be in a living environment, such as a facility like a nursing center, oftentimes what’s happening are people are going back into the closet.  They’re not comfortable having their friends visit.  They’re not comfortable being clear about their next-of-kin because of fear of recrimination."

Wadsworth says one of her colleagues recently conducted cultural training at New Hanover Regional Medical Center.  An NHRMC spokesperson confirmed the recent training -- as well as the fact that sexual orientation is included in the patient non-discrimination policy. 

To hear more about the practical and psychological challenges of aging in this region, and to find a list of resources, check out this edition of CoastLine.

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 4 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.