NEW research into LGBTI people and dementia aims to combat a myth in the aged care sector that LGBTI people with dementia “become straight”.

Researchers into LGBTI people and ageing at La Trobe University pointed to an apparently widely-held belief older people with dementia “lose” their sexual or gender diversity. This idea is allegedly common not only within aged care service provision — it has been discussed in public forums like professional conferences, as recently as in the past year.

The research project led by La Trobe’s Dr Catherine Barrett in conjunction with Alzheimer’s Australia aims to address this damaging misconception by documenting the diverse experiences of LGBTI people with dementia.

She told the Star Observer the view was harmful because it was coming from people in positions of authority in the field.

“It’s kind of a homophobic view in a way, that being LGBTI is some kind of a performance, and that we lose capacity for the performance if we get dementia,” Barrett said.

She said it was as though some thought LGBTI people with dementia had “regressed” to a point before they “chose” not to be heterosexual.

An earlier study called My People, conducted by older lesbian and gay groups Matrix Guild and Vintage Men, cited an aged care service provider asking for assistance in understanding how to meet the needs of a new resident “who used to be gay”.

Barrett said the impacts of these views on LGBTI people could be severe, as it meant aged-care service providers believed they did not have to engage with sexual and gender diversity around people with dementia.

She told the story of one man whose partner with dementia was living in an aged care facility for people with mental illness.

“His partner who was in the facility needed a lot of comfort and a lot of reassurance, because he couldn’t quite understand why he was in the facility, and so hugging and touching and kissing and holding hands was incredibly important to him,” Barrett explained.

“Their relationship was visible because of that partner needing contact, and he had a couple of episodes of discrimination from other residents.”

Barrett said in one interview already conducted by the researchers for the study she asked a gay man with mild dementia what he thought of the idea of “losing” sexuality and gender diversity.

“I said, ‘so do you think as a person with dementia you are still gay?’ And he laughed and laughed and laughed, and then he said, ‘naturally’,” she said.

Barrett said stories from the interviews will be collected for a publication, to shed light on the personal and unique experiences. Researchers will also develop education resources around the issue of LGBTI people with dementia.

The project is looking to hear from LGBTI Australians living with dementia, as well as their partners, families and carers. Contact Dr Catherine Barrett at [email protected] to find out how you can participate confidentially.


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