THE results of a recent study into the experiences of LGBT people living with dementia have been released, with the aim of debunking the notion that gay and lesbian people “become straight” when they get dementia.

The research was the first of its kind in Australia, undertaken in partnership between the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society (ARCSHS) at La Trobe University and Alzheimer’s Australia.

[showads ad=MREC]Members of the queer community, including those living with dementia, were interviewed about their first-hand experiences as a way to improve service providers and carers.

ARCSHS senior research fellow Dr Catherine Barrett believes the results will provide an important foundation for future care responses.

“We asked gay and lesbian couples what they thought about the perception that you become straight when you get dementia and most people responded saying that ‘naturally’ you are still gay,” she told the Star Observer.

“There was a lesbian that said sexuality isn’t a rinse colour you put in your hair, it’s fundamental, and this is important because we have to acknowledge that LGBT people are still LGBT.”

One of the women interviewed for the project, Anne, reflected on her relationship with her long-time partner Edie, and said that something as fundamental as sexuality wasn’t going to change.

“It’s probably one of the most absurd things I’ve ever heard of,” she said.

“What that’s saying is that Edie will turn away from what she’s been all her life and who she’s been with most of her life and go to something that is unnatural for her.

“You may as well say, you know, hippopotamuses turn pink when they get to the age of 70.”

The research project also found that some LGBT people living with dementia lost their capacity to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity as their disease progressed.

It found the fear of inadvertent disclosure was a significant source of anxiety for LGBT people living with dementia.

“A number of people said that they were worried about disclosing their sexuality or gender identity at a time that was inappropriate,” Barrett said.

Barrett added that one of the other important issues that the research highlighted was the feelings of isolation from the queer community felt by those living with dementia.

“Most of the people that we spoke to lamented the loss of their social connections to the LGBT community,” she said.

“Connection to LGBT communities is really important for older people, especially if they’ve lived in a hostile world, because they create safe spaces around them with LGBT people.”

The project will be formally launched at the National LGBTI Ageing and Aged Care Conference on October 26 and 27 in Melbourne.

“At the conference we’ll talk to LGBT people living with dementia, because we recognise their expertise and we’re asking LGBT community members to help support an older person to come along to the conference,” Barrett said.

“It’s a real opportunity to honour older people’s experiences and allow them to tell us their story.”

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