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Commission hear issues shared by LGBT elders

Date: 9/25/2014

HOLYOKE – Whether or not a senior citizen who is gay wishes to come out or how a transgender person is treated in a nursing home were two of the issues brought up at a state commission meeting in Holyoke on Sept. 23.

The challenges of aging lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) are the concerns of a new state commission that concluded a statewide listening tour with a meeting at Holyoke Community.
The Massachusetts Commission on LGBT Aging is the first its kind in the nation and has been charged by the Legislature with “investigating, analyzing and studying a number of key areas including: health, housing and social connections for LGBT older adults and their caregivers, and to make recommendations to improve access to benefits and services where appropriate and necessary,” according to materials distributed by the commission.
Chaired by state Sen. Patricia Jehlen and state Rep James O’Day, the commission is supposed to report its findings back to the Legislature. The commission had conducted hearings in Orleans, Worcester, and Boston as well.
About 20 people attended the event, including Mayor Alex Morse.
O’Day said that what the commission members really want to do is to have a conversation about aging LGBT citizens.
Commission member David Stevens, president of the Massachusetts Council on Aging spoke that acceptance and feelings of isolation are on-going problems of the elderly LGBT community ion the state.
One homecare professional told the commission a greater level of training is required for people work with LGBT elderly and that LGBT veterans are not always aware of the services offered by the Veteran Administration.
Marcia McKenzie, the Diversity Initiatives manager of the Massachusetts and New Hampshire Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, said that “a lot” of LGBT elders are not receiving help because they are afraid of intolerance and “being outed” if they go to a senior center.
McKenzie said that some older people “lose their filter” and say things that might reveal elements of their personal life they may not really want to say.
She added that some social service agencies are not welcoming to them.
She recalled a story that occurred 13 years ago about a family caring for a transgendered man who lived his life as woman and had developed Alzheimer’s. Although his brother and his sister-law cared for him, when they made the decision to retire in Puerto Rico, they realized she could not tolerate a move. They sought an appropriate nursing home but ran into a problem. Although she had lived her life as a woman, she was physically a man and nursing home administrators were reluctant to place her in a room with either another man or woman.
McKenzie said, “Ironically a nursing home in Springfield converted a closet into room.”  She added, “At least they tried to accommodate her.”
The issue, she told the commission is training. “They didn’t have the education,” she said. “Where is that fine line? What do you do? A whole level of education needs to happen.”
She noted that with the incidence of Alzheimer’s– one out of seven people over the age of 65 contracts the disease and one in two are at risk at 85 – education is increasingly important.
McKenzie said that being LGBT and suffering from dementia is “a double whammy.”