Emily Mongan

Wave. Boom. Tsunami. However you describe it, we talk about it a lot here at McKnight’s: in the coming years, more and more older adults will require long-term care.

It’s been estimated that an additional four million healthcare workers will be needed to match that demand by 2050. Growing the long-term care workforce, as well as adding and updating facility infrastructure, are high on the industry’s list of priorities in order to meet the needs and expectations of their future residents.

But there’s another facet to this silver tsunami that might have been overlooked, according to a recently published report.

A special issue of The Gerontologist published earlier this month focuses solely on health and aging issues faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender seniors. The report draws on data from the largest ever national survey of LGBT adults, ages 50 to 100. The studies in the issue touch on race and ethnicity, mental health and healthcare engagement-related issues experienced by older LGBT adults.

The finding that jumped out at me the most was one that found 2.4% of older adults in the United States currently identify as LGBT. That translates to roughly 2.7 million people over the age of 50, with 1.1 million over them over age 65. Chances are you’re already caring for some of the people included in that number.

But what about those LGBT adults older than 50, but not yet 65? There’s 1.6 million of them, and it’s probably safe to say a good majority of them are still healthy and working. But that won’t always be the case; they’re among that growing number of adults who will require your services in the next few years.

Knowing that an increasing number of residents who self-identify as LGBT will enter your facility in the near future is just half the battle, according to The Gerontologist. They’re bringing with them a set of unique physical and mental health issues you’ll have to account for as well.

“LGBT older adults face disparities in health and well-being compared to heterosexual peers, including higher rates of disability, cardiovascular disease, depression and social isolation,” said Karen I. Fredrisken-Golden, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Washington School of Social Work who served as editor of the special issue. “Discrimination, stigma and lack of healthcare access is associated with these elevated disparities. It is important to understand that these communities are diverse, and unique groups face distinct challenges to their health.”

So where to begin? Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders, or SAGE, is a good place to start. The organization offers publications, educational materials and programs geared toward the seniors themselves, but that still could be of value to long-term care providers. SAGE has also brought its knowledge to provider conferences, such as last year’s LeadingAge annual meeting.

If you have questions or concerns about how your facility and staff can better care for LGBT residents, and prepare for what’s sure to be a growing population over the next few years, now’s the time to ask. Because the silver tsunami is coming, and as providers already know, it’s showing no signs of stopping.

Follow Emily Mongan @emmongan.