Dementia and LGBT+ people

In 2018 we got in touch with Ruth Hunt, who at the time was Chief Executive of charity Stonewall, the largest LGBT equality body in Europe. She kindly wrote an article for the NDAA on dementia and LGBT people, as part of our campaign From Seldom Heard to Seen and Heard.

In the UK today, there are 850,000 people living with dementia, with numbers set to rise to over a million by 2025. It doesn’t discriminate by sexual orientation or gender identity, but for older lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) people living with this debilitating condition, life can prove particularly challenging.

Stonewall’s research (Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual People in Later Life, 2011) shows that LGBT people face the prospect of getting older without much personal support or regular contact from friends or family. But a lack of support from loved ones is not the only challenge they face.

Older LGBT people have lived through times when same-sex activity was illegal and trans people had no legal protection. The legacy of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia lives on well after laws have changed, and many vulnerable older people choose not to access vital services as they still fear discrimination or abuse from health and social care staff.

Even for those who do access services, many choose not to disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity, which can drastically reduce the quality of care they receive.

Although the Equality Act 2010 protects LGBT people from discrimination when accessing public services, prejudice based on sexual orientation and gender identity remains a very real issue. Our Unhealthy Attitudes report found that even as recently as 2015, a quarter of patient-facing staff have heard colleagues make negative remarks about LGBT people. One in five have heard similar comments about trans people.

The same report found that almost 60% of health and social care professionals don’t consider sexual orientation to be relevant at all to a patient’s needs and a quarter of staff don’t feel confident treating trans people. So even if an LGBT person accesses a service and discloses their gender identity or sexual identity, they may be confronted with indifference, insensitivity and even overt discrimination.

This is why Stonewall is calling for mandatory LGBT-inclusive training across health and social care settings to help staff understand the specific needs of LGBT patients and service users.

Much more needs to be done to ensure everyone receives the crucial support they deserve. We need to see improvements to the health and social care system so that older LGBT people living with dementia feel safe, cared for, respected and accepted without exception.

See what amazing work Stonewall do:

Take a look at the NDAA’s campaign #dementiaseenandheard

© National Dementia Action Alliance 2020. All rights reserved

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