AAIC 2018: Dementia prevalence in the LGBT community highlights need for outreach

Written by Abigail Sawyer, Future Science Group

The first data set regarding the prevalence of dementia in LGBT older adults has been announced today at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (22–26 July, Chicago, IL, USA), highlighting the need for further research and outreach.
Researchers from University of California, San Francisco and Kaiser Permanente Division of Research (both CA, USA) examined dementia prevalence among 3718 adults aged 60 and older, who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual.

“Current estimates suggest that more than 200,000 sexual minorities in the US are living with dementia, but – before our study – almost nothing was known about the prevalence of dementia among people in this group who do not have HIV/AIDS-related dementia,” commented Jason Flatt, Assistant Professor at the Institute for Health & Aging at the University of California, San Francisco.

The researchers collected the dementia diagnoses from medical records of participants in the Kaiser Permanente Research Program on Genes, Environment and Health. After following up with the subjects for 9 years, their findings indicate that dementia prevalence in this population was 7.4%.  The US prevalence of dementias is approximately 10% in those aged 65 and older.

Currently, there are approximately 2.7 million members of the LGBT community aged over 50, which is expected to double in the next 15 years. Those who identify as LGBT and are diagnosed with dementia face additional challenges.

The LGBT community still faces discrimination. On top of that, current figures suggest that they are 50% less likely to grow old with a partner, twice as likely to live on their own and up to four-times less likely to have children. All of these factors can be incredibly isolating and lead to a lack of support.

There is also evidence that older members of the LGBT population do not access essential services as frequently as the general public. These include visiting nurses, as well as food stamps and meal plans. The fear members of the LGBT community may have in relation to poor treatment because of their identity, combined with the stigma attached to dementia, may lead to even fewer LGBT members reaching out for dementia support.

“Our findings highlight the need for culturally competent healthcare and practice for older sexual minorities at risk for, or currently living with, Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia. There are also important implications for meeting the long-term care services and caregiving needs of this community. Given the concerns of social isolation and limited access to friend and family caregivers, there is a strong need to create a supportive healthcare environment and caregiving resources for sexual minority adults living with dementia,” Flatt concluded.

Sources: Flatt J et al. Dementia prevalence among sexual minority older adults. Presented at: Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, Chicago, IL, USA, 22–26 July 2018; www.alz.org/aaic/releases_2018/AAIC18-Sun-briefing-prevalence-lgbt.asp

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