Two organizations in Australia just released the results of a study on dementia in the LGBT community, undertaken to disprove the idea that people with dementia “turn straight” and to improve their care and service.
The study was organized by the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society at La Trobe University and Alzheimer’s Australia, who interviewed members of the LGBT community with dementia and their loved ones. The results are fascinating, if not altogether surprising.
Most people who were asked whether or not LGBT people with dementia retain their sexuality and gender identity said that they absolutely do. One lesbian woman is quoted as saying that “sexuality isn’t a rinse colour you put in your hair, it’s fundamental.” Regardless of whether or not you believe that sexuality and gender identity are innate from birth, it still seems evident that these identities are not forgotten as dementia sets in.
The notion that people with dementia might somehow revert to straight and cis is honestly ludicrous to me. But for those who mistakenly perceive being heterosexual and cisgender as “default,” perhaps the logic makes sense. Regardless, identifying as part of the LGBT community is not merely an addition to a cis, straight blank slate. Understanding that, and understanding that identity remains even when memory is lost, is critical to providing considerate and mindful care to LGBT patients with dementia.
The study also revealed that two significant worries of LGBT patients with dementia are the loss of community and the loss of discretion.
Finding community in LGBT safe spaces is not only beneficial for young people, but for our elders as well. For many older LGBT people, dementia can lead to isolation and the loss of that community, which is detrimental to their mental health. Additionally, many of the patients interviewed were concerned that they might inadvertently reveal their sexuality or gender identity at inopportune or inappropriate times.
The results of this study will be presented formally at the National LGBTI Ageing and Aged Care Conference, held on October 26 and 27 in Melbourne, Australia. It is my great hope that we can take this and other research to improve the lives and care of our elders in the LGBT community, who are far too often lost or forgotten.