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Social Isolation Faced by Many Gay Elders

We have written several pieces in GeriPal about issues such as isolation and loneliness. One aspect that we haven’t really explored is how there may be communities of elders that may be at increased risk for isolation, especially near the end of life.

Luckily, a fellow geriatrician of ours, Manuel Eskildsen, just had a piece that came out in the NY Times titled “For Many Older Gays, a Toll of Time and Isolation.” In this piece he tells a story of a nursing home patient whose death continues to gnaw at him. There were many things that may have gone differently the day CPR was performed on this elderly resident. What mattered most for Dr. Eskildsen though was how this “kind, erudite and generous” elderly gay man died alone.

Dr. Eskildsen goes on in this piece to describe how this patient’s death underscores a difference between older and younger generations of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals. He writes:
“Maybe my strong connection to this patient was related to the guilt that I felt about my generation’s relative good fortune in having the freedom to come out and be honest about our lives, and the ability to lead them to their maximum potential. Gay men in my patient’s age group largely did not have this luxury.”

In addition to the importance of the subject matter, I was also struck by the fact that I was reading about this topic in the NY Times and not in an editorial piece in JAMA, Archives, or Annals of Internal Medicine. Dr. Esklidsen was willing to bring this message to a larger audience, that includes both health care professionals like myself, as well as the larger and more influential general public.

If Geriatrics or Palliative Care are to have a bigger impact in the way we deliver care to those who are elderly or who have advanced disease, we will need more individuals like Dr. Esklidsen who are willing to put themselves out in the spot light. With this in mind, we should have more writing workshops at our national meetings (we are doing them locally in UCSF's Division of Geriatrics) and more opportunities at these meetings to learn from those who have been successful in making there voice heard.

Of note: We also just found out that our workshop "Facebook, Blogs, and Twitter: Using Social Media to Advance Geriatrics" got accepted for the AGS national meeting on 5/3/2012 from 2:45 PM - 4:15 PM

by: Eric Widera (@ewidera)

Comments

Belinda Setters said…
This is a great article, and a great topic to explore. Thanks for sharing. I will definitely look forward to your session at AGS as well. Congrats.
Jason A. Webb said…
Thanks for sharing. A recent documentary entitled "Gen Silent" by Director Stu Maddox, examines end-of-life issues for elderly LGBT people and has been screening around the US to high acclaim. I would highly recommend it for any palliative medicine physician or geriatrician to see. As an IM resident interested in palliative medicine I found it moving and provocative.

http://stumaddux.com/GEN_SILENT.html

Jason A. Webb, MD
Durham, NC
Helen Chen said…
A resource for those who practice in the Bay Area: Lavender Seniors is a non-profit advocacy group that seeks to reduce the isolation of LGBT seniors. They offer volunteer friendly visits and a limited congregate meal program mostly to seniors who live in the East Bay. Here is their website: www.lavenderseniors.org.
Marcus Escobedo said…
Another great resource is SAGE: Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (www.sageusa.org). They have an array of programs in New York City and affiliates around the country to help older individuals overcome social isoloation. Thanks for sharing about this important issue. - Marcus Escobedo, John A. Hartford Foundation

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