I met the neighbors while I stood in the back of the U-Haul unloading boxes. A 60-something woman introduced herself as Ellen, and pointed to a woman standing in the yard behind her— “That’s Helen.” I squelched my need to comment on the rhyme. They’ve heard it before.
In the conversation that followed, I learned they purchased their home during the Reagan era and had been together since President Ford. Sixty-something turned out to be 74, and these wonderful women turned out to be incredible neighbors and friends. That made it difficult to learn Helen was diagnosed with dementia two years later. Ellen did her best to manage her wife’s daily care. I perfected my casserole skills in an attempt to ease the burden. Fortunately, Ellen was smart enough to know when it was time for more help. But when it came to LGBT senior care, she wasn’t certain where to start.
There are inherent challenges to finding an appropriate caregiver, and more when seeking someone that understands the unique considerations of LBGTQ+ seniors. There are about 60 million Americans over the age of 50. The National Resource Center on LGBT Aging reports that 2.4 million of these adults self-identify as LGBT with the number expected to double by 2030. As this population ages, the need for LGBTQ+-affirming care providers grows as well.
Trusting the care of your LGBTQ+ loved one to someone else may be complicated by fear of discrimination or substandard treatment. Ease these fears by doing some preliminary research, asking the right questions of a potential provider, and specifying your expectations and needs.
Researching Your Options
Begin your search for a caregiver by asking for referrals from other LGBTQ+ people you know. You might be surprised at the number of colleagues or acquaintances with similar situations. Find out if they’ve worked with an individual or home care company and what they liked or disliked about the service provided. Take notes about their experience with interviewing potential providers. Pay close attention when your friend or coworker offers their own lessons learned in the process. This may make the process easier for you.
The Internet provides a wealth of information in your search for a caregiver. Unfortunately, the amount of data is overwhelming. Finding relevant information will require more than typing “home care providers” into the search bar. Use the web to find resources to help you in your search rather than clicking on a banner ad for an agency. Start with search terms such as “local resources for LGBTQ+ elder care” or more broadly “LGBTQ+ senior care.” Many reputable non-profit organizations offer online guidance specifically for this community.
The National Resource Center on LGBT Aging was established in 2010 with support from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Its main focus is providing training, educational resources and technical assistance to the LGBTQ+ senior community and their caregivers. This site is part of a larger effort by an advocacy group known as SAGE.
Services & Advocacy for LGBT Elders (SAGE) is the oldest and largest non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) older adults, focusing on the issue of LGBT aging. This website also provides a list of available resources by state.
Ask the Right Questions
· Whether you are considering an individual or working through an agency, there are questions you can ask to find a good fit for your LGBTQ+ loved one.
· What is your non-discrimination policy? A reputable agency will have a policy in place to prevent discriminatory practices against sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
· Do you have any specific training or certification specific to the LGBTQ+ community? There are many training courses offered for caregivers to learn cultural competency and understand the needs of this population. If not, find out if the caregiver would be willing to obtain additional training.
· Can I speak to some of your former clients? It is normal to ask former clients and their families about the treatment they received from their care provider. Inquire about both positive and negative examples of care.
· Are you able to address specific health needs? The LGBTQ+ senior population may have specific healthcare needs including HIV or requirements related to transgender seniors. That is why it is important to be able to relay to the potential care provider exactly what needs exist and what you expect from a caregiver.
Know Exactly What You Need
When finding any caregiver, the ability to express the needs of the patient is very important. These include identifying the level of care needed, the hours care is needed, and what you expect from a caregiver.
Consider whether or not your LGBTQ+ senior needs companionship, assistance with meals, mobility, or hygiene. Transportation may also be something you want from a caregiver. Also know if you will need assistance with medication or more intensive medical care including monitoring of vitals or duties that a certified professional would need to do.
It requires open communication to ensure both the needs of your LGBTQ+ loved one and their caregiver are being met. You and your new caregiver can create a care plan for managing responsibilities that come with this important commitment.
When you look for someone to provide elevated care for your LGBTQ+ senior, know that the first person you choose may not be the right fit. The process of hiring the right care for your loved one can be tiresome. Knowing that you’ve chosen someone that appreciates and understands the history and circumstances of the LGBTQ+ elder community will help you sleep at night.
As for my neighbors, Ellen found a wonderful caregiver for her wife. He has worked for them for nearly a year, and he likes my casseroles. With patience and positivity, you too, will find the right caregiver for your special loved one.