Bay Area Reporter: Peer support, dementia programs launched for LGBT seniors

March 2, 2017

The San Francisco Department of Aging and Adult Services has announced grants for two new major community service programs for LGBT seniors.

One will work to enhance the lives of LGBT seniors and adults with disabilities through a peer support network to reduce social isolation. The second will create an Alzheimer's and Dementia Care Network and education campaign designed to overcome the unique barriers aging LGBT individuals have to access needed services, according to a news release.

Both of these programs are being implemented as part of the research and policy recommendations of the LGBT Aging Policy Task Force.

"This is the result of so many years of work to address the real and unique needs of the LGBT senior community," gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) said at a Friday, February 24 news conference on the City Hall steps.

"It's unfortunate that because of HIV, many people were not reaching senior status for many years," said Wiener, who was instrumental in creating the aging task force, which completed its work in 2014. He also noted that LGBT seniors are less likely to have adult children who can take care of them.

According to the Department of Aging and Adult Services, 12 percent of San Francisco seniors identify as LGBT, which is 20,000 to 25,000 people over the age of 65.

Gay District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, said, "This is one more great example of San Francisco leading the way in this country, showing others the way to go.

"We know that discrimination makes it hard to thrive. It is fantastic these two awards have been made. My dad died of Alzheimer's, so I know I am at risk personally for this disease," added Sheehy.

Wiener has focused on the needs of LGBT seniors since his time on the Board of Supervisors. He said that he's submitted an LGBT seniors bill of rights in the state Senate, which is similar to successful legislation he authored when he was a supervisor.

"Thanks to Scott Wiener, we have legislation protecting us in senior facilities. Taking it across the whole state would be huge," said Sheehy.

The Shanti Project received a two-year $640,000 grant for isolation prevention services for LGBT seniors and adults with disabilities.

Shanti has worked previously on the issue of LGBT elder social isolation, many of whom have experienced significant loss and trauma.

"The medical community has confirmed what we already knew: having to face medical challenges alone makes it all the more difficult," said Shanti Executive Director Kaushik Roy. "It's now proven to contribute to mortality, like smoking."

Shireen McSpadden, the executive director of the San Francisco Department of Aging and Adult Services, said, "San Francisco has taken the lead in supporting the LGBT senior population.

"Since 2011, we have researched the challenges of the LGBT senior community. The key finding is that even in San Francisco, the level of stigma impacts resources and exacerbated isolation," McSpadden added.

Openhouse, the LGBT senior agency, has funding from the aging department for its resource center that is now located at the Bob Ross LGBT Senior Center at 65 Laguna Street, said new Executive Director Karyn Skultety, Ph.D.

Skultety wrote in an email that the agency would work with others to develop a first-of-its-kind training to enhance care for LGBT seniors living with dementia and their care partners or caregivers.

"This grant allows us to better address the needs of LGBT seniors and adults with disabilities. We will work very closely with Openhouse and Family Caregiver Alliance," said Angie Pratt of the Alzheimer's Association.

The Alzheimer's Association's two-year $400,000 grant will go to the forming of a Dementia Care Network for LGBT seniors. Funds will go toward education and training community-based organizations, as well as professional and medical organizations to improve awareness of the unique issues LGBT seniors face. Next, a significant marketing and outreach campaign will occur to get information to the LGBT community. Lastly, a summit will be held in San Francisco in early 2019 to look at results and focus on next steps.

Read the story on the the Bay Area Reporter website