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Brian de Vries Research on LGBTQ Aging

Aging is Even More Challenging for LGBTQ People

Symposium Speaker de Vries’ Research Reveals Reality but Encourages Resilience

Brian De VriesCSU Shiley Institute for Palliative Care Academic Symposium 2017 plenary speaker Brian de Vries, PhD, indeed has a distinguished career, holding a Professor of Gerontology appointment at San Francisco State University with adjunct appointments at Simon Fraser University (in Vancouver, BC) as well as the University of Alberta (in Edmonton, AB).

He is an author, editor, researcher on aging with an emphasis on LGBT people, and has given over 150 presentations to professional audiences on the social and psychological well-being of midlife and older LGBT persons, bereavement, and life stories. Yet his research is very engaged with real people facing real difficulties.

Website Promotes Communication Among Aging LGBT Persons

His work with the Simon Fraser University Gerontology Research Centre includes formation of a resource-packed website created to facilitate end-of-life planning for LGBT persons: LGBT End-of-life Conversations helps people through difficult decisions, both medically and personally, who have particularly unique challenges as members of the LGBTQ community. A discussion forum is furnished on the website to encourage website visitor conversations, along with resources, activities, events, and information on LGBT elder abuse.

An interview featuring Dr. de Vries and Dr. Gloria Gutman of Simon Fraser, Fostering End of Life Conversations, Care and Community among LGBT Older Adults, shares how their research has grown since it began, and how they have worked to nurture care provision for LGBT persons.

Social Isolation is Commonplace for aging LGBT Persons

Dr. de Vries’ research on the nuances of aging for LGBT persons has taken him to numerous locations and communities. He was interviewed about his discoveries when working in Palm Springs, CA, in an article published on the public radio WBUR website Common Health. Entitled Out, Proud and Old: LGBT Seniors More Likely to Age Alone, the writer sets the stage that “Recent analyses suggest that there are at least 1.5 million lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans over the age of 60.  These numbers are based on an estimate from UCLA’s Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and the Law which has calculated that approximately 3.8 percent of Americans identify as LGBT.”

But further statistics show “more than half of LGBT respondents have been told by a doctor that they have depression; 39 percent have seriously contemplated suicide; and 53 percent feel isolated from others. Social isolation remains a major issue as LGBT seniors are 3-4 times less likely to have children, twice as likely to live alone, and twice as likely to be single.”

Fear Forces “Back Into the Closet” for LGBT Elders

Dr. de Vries stated that, all too commonly, when older LGBT people require more care for health conditions, fear increases and may force individuals “back into the closet.” The Common Health article noted, “In a 2014 study co-authored by de Vries of 400 midlife and older gay men and lesbians surveyed, about one-third maintained some fear of openly disclosing their sexual orientation. A 2010 Williams Institute study reported that, compared to LGBT persons under the age of 30, those between the ages of 30 and 54 were at least 16 times more likely to be ‘‘closeted’’ and those over the age of 55 are 83 times more likely to be ‘‘closeted.’’

Lack of Family Requires Even More Planning

Dr. de Vries noted that California and other states have legal requirements now for staff in long term care facilities to receive LGBT sensitivity training, but the training “does not apply to the other residents in the facility.” So with fewer family members or children to assist, Dr. de Vries stated gay or lesbian people must approach friends to have end-of-life conversations and provide support. “As gay men or lesbians with people we have chosen as our family… how can we introduce this discussion in those settings so we can be better prepared?”

The Symposium presentation Dr. de Vries will co-present with Dr. Kim Acquaviva, “Palliative Care and LGBTQ Persons: Countering Stigma and Nurturing Resilience,” will engage the audience with key issues the LGBTQ persons encounter, and provide resources and ideas for attendees to bring to their classrooms and research to counter stigma and nurture resilience.

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