A new report commissioned by Alzheimer’s Australia reveals there are a host of problems and issues unique to Alzheimer’s-affected GLBTI people.
Dementia, Lesbians and Gay Men shows that issues such as homophobia, social isolation, lack of legislation and family support are deeply felt by members of the GLBTI community facing dementia and Alzheimer’s.
The CEO of Alzheimer’s Australia, Glenn Rees, told Sydney Star Observer the new report — with a foreword by the Hon Michael Kirby — was part of the organisation’s commitment to reach marginalised communities.
“Over the years, we’ve had a commitment to be more socially inclusive,” Rees said.
“Whatever gender or nationality you are, dementia impacts. I think the point is that for some groups in our community, the stigma and social isolation of dementia impacts more harshly than it does on the general population.”
Dotted with sobering case studies detailing examples of homophobia from aged care workers or a lack of support from government services, the report’s findings were an eye-opener for Rees.
“The multiple ways in which dementia presents special problems for these groups [surprised me]. I hadn’t really reflected on how a person’s lifestyle and experiences would carry over into older age and into community care, with [carers] coming into your home.
“Some of the stories in the publication that show how sensitive people can be about revealing their past, how awkward they can feel when in community or residential care, were quite moving.”
One particularly shocking case study described an adult son who demanded his dementia-affected mother and her frail female partner be separated and placed in different wings of an aged care facility, effectively cutting off their contact with each other. The staff complied with his demand without question, causing his mother great upset.
“I think for any family, the ageing process is very difficult,” Rees said.
“To add to that the personal difficulties that gay and lesbian people might experience — family conflicts, tensions and things like that — to have the conflicts of the past revisited on the bedside of somebody who’s dying is very difficult.”
Rees said that while better training about GLBTI issues for care workers was an important part of rectifying the problems identified in the report, those living with dementia could also take some simple steps to help themselves.
“I think the thing that helps is talking about it. If you can talk about it with your friends, your partner or your doctor, you’re going to help your situation, because living with it by yourself is a terrible burden.”
info: Dementia: Lesbians and Gay Men and Dementia: Facing the Epidemic (budget submission outlining priorities in dementia research and care for the next five years) are both available to download from the Alzheimer’s Australia website. Visit www.alzheimers.org.au