A new initiative from Charlotte’s Western Carolina Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association hopes to break through new barriers and increase education and awareness on the needs of LGBT seniors, caretakers, professionals and others working with Alzheimer’s patients.
In May, the local Alzheimer’s Association was granted $4,000 from the Charlotte Lesbian & Gay Fund to develop a community education conference addressing the needs of LGBT elders and caregivers.
Melanie Miller, the chapter’s director of education and support, says the event will be a half-day conference, uniquely focused on a variety of needs often unaddressed or lacking readily available resources.
“We hope to bring together LGBT older adults and caregivers, as well as individuals in the seniors industry — professional folks working in retirement communities, senior centers, assisted living communities,” Miller says.
The half-day conference is currently planned for January. Miller and her colleagues want to first bring together a a planning committee comprised of LGBT seniors and others, in order to ensure the event addresses current needs in the community. Of the several issues the association believes will be addressed are legal and financial needs, including health directives.
“It’s a conversation we all should have, but especially LGBT individuals because we know that not all laws are what they need to be to protect folks. When dealing with Alzheimer’s or dementia, there’s an added component of knowing caring for won’t be able to participate in those decisions at some point.
The Alzheimer’s Association has partnered with SAGE, a national organization working on LGBT eldercare issues. Miller and some of her colleagues attended a SAGE workshop at a recent conference.
“What stuck out to me and my co-workers was a SAGE survey, where they had asked LGBT older adults if they felt they could be open about their sexual orientation and gender identity with staff at a nursing home or other facility,” Miller says. “Only 22 percent of respondents answered yes. We really saw that as something that should be addressed. Could we be the folks to help bridge that gap and bring people together to start a conversation?”
The half-day conference will provide her chapter with more ability to serve LGBT seniors in need. Additionally, the conference will also address the needs of LGBT caregivers. Many have often personally noticed that LGBT children often find themselves becoming the primary caregivers for their aging parents.
“We know we have it, but we can’t prove we have,” Miller says. “It’s not a question on the form.”
Miller says it isn’t surprising to see LGBT children taking care of their parents or other older loved ones.
“In general, a lot of times, caregiving falls to the person who is ‘most available,’” Miller says, adding that dynamics in families are often very different. “That can mean different things for different families — someone who lives close by, someone who does not have children or someone who does not hav a typical family structure and therefore are seen as not having the same responsibilities are are looked at as ‘less busy’ and ‘more available.’”
Miller’s educational forum will be among some of the first efforts to address LGBT aging in Charlotte. Several other initiatives have also started, including a monthly discussion group and attempts at past SAGE chapter organizing efforts, but nothing has really ever taken hold in the Queen City. In the absence of concrete services for LGBT seniors or caregivers, groups like the Alzheimer’s Association are turning toward creating their own.
It’s part of a process, Miller says, of expanding services and outreach. The association already produces a great many community education programs, as well as providing a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week helpline, in addition to fundraising efforts that support Alzheimer’s research.
Planning is currently underway for the half-day LGBT conference. Those interested in becoming part of the planning committee or offering ideas or feedback can contact Miller at 704-532-5275 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more about local Alzheimer’s Associations programs and services at alz.org/northcarolina. : :