Pop Center joins with community partners to launch a new study of well-being among LGBT and heterosexual older adults
By Judith Bradford, PhD
Director of the Center for Population Research in LGBT Health, Co-Chair of The Fenway Institute
& Aimee VanWagenen, PhD
Associate Research Scientist
& Sammy Sass
In November, the Center for Population Research in LGBT Health and the Massachusetts LGBT Aging Needs Assessment Coalition (M’LANA) launched a new study of well-being among LGBT and heterosexual older adults. The study, called “Care and Service Needs of Older Adults at Congregate Meal Sites” will survey older adults who attend “community cafes” in the greater Boston area. The study will help us to better understand the challenges that people face in living healthy, happy, and active lives in older age, along with the resources and strengths that people bring to meeting these challenges. The study is funded by a grant awarded to The Fenway Institute from the Lesbian Health Fund of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association.
Community cafes provide a unique location from which to learn about older adults. These cafes, held in congregate settings such as senior centers and churches, provide nutritious meals for a very low cost to individuals 60 years and older. Importantly, they also combat social isolation by providing older adults with a place to gather together and socialize. Community cafes are offered in all 50 states and the District of Columbia through Title III of the Older Americans Act, a funding program of the US Administration on Aging. Nationally, about 38 percent of meals provided by Title III funding are served in congregate settings, with the remainder delivered to home-bound seniors through “meals on wheels” (Administration on Aging, 2011).
Community cafes are the first entry point into the elder service system for many older Americans. By providing access to affordable and nutritious prepared meals, the community cafes lessen the burden on older adults to shop for and prepare food and make it easier for seniors to maintain independence and remain in their homes. Previous research has shown that compared to other elder service recipients, congregate meal site attendees tend to be younger, in better health, and less reliant on services to maintain independence (Altshuler & Schimmel, 2010). Community cafes are thus an ideal social location to survey older adults about what they expect in the next phase of their lives and to learn about their current and coming aging challenges, their readiness and comfort to further engage with the elder service system, and their current care and service needs.
Most community cafes serve a general population of elders in which everyone over 60 is welcome to attend. To try to ensure that community cafes reach everyone in need, some elder service agencies provide community cafes that reach out and provide culturally competent services to diverse constituencies. In Massachusetts, older adults currently have the option of attending six such community cafes for LGBT people and their friends. These LGBT-friendly cafes began with the efforts of Ethos, who sponsors two meal sites in the city of Boston: Café Emmanuel, a weekly lunch at Emmanuel Church, and Out to Brunch, a monthly brunch for LBT women at Roslindale House. LGBT-friendly cafes are now also sponsored by several additional elder service agencies across the metro area and can be found in Braintree, Cambridge, Salem, and Sharon. (Visit www.lgbtagingproject.org for a list of all the LGBT-friendly meal sites and locations.) In addition to LGBT-friendly sites, Massachusetts agencies host several cafes that serve ethnically diverse older adults and provide culturally-specific meals that appeal to Jewish, Chinese and Haitian Americans, among others.
The new study of older adults who attend congregate meal sites will survey attendees at each of the Boston area’s six LGBT-friendly community cafes and at six Boston area cafes not specifically designated as LGBT-friendly. Study participants will be asked about demographics, social supports and social isolation, and their experiences, feelings, and needs regarding services for older adults. Study participants at LGBT sites will be asked additional questions regarding their experiences growing older and being LGBT, their levels of outness, and their experiences of, and concerns about, discrimination. The study will ultimately explore similarities and differences in the experiences and perspectives of LGBT and heterosexual older adults.
Previous research suggests that LGBT older adults face significant adversities. In a recent large national survey of LGBT older adults, 82% reported an experience of victimization due to sexual orientation or gender identity sometime in their lifetime; 64% had been victimized three or more times (Fredricksen-Goldsen et al. 2011). Further, more than 50% of respondents reported loneliness. But there is also evidence of resilience and strength in this group. LGBT older adults seem to be able to rely on partners and friends for support care. They are also finding and building supportive environments to foster health and well-being, like the LGBT-friendly community cafes. Some of our early survey responses have indicated that many LGBT older adults feel pride and increased contentment regarding their LGBT identities.
The new study will provide much needed information about LGBT older adults to support and direct us in providing services that will meet their needs. The study is an effort of the M’LANA Coalition, a community-based participatory research collective which includes leaders from six Boston area organizations (the LGBT Aging Project, Stonewall Communities, the New England Association on HIV Over 50, Ethos, John Snow, Inc., and Fenway Health), along with faculty and students from several area colleges and universities. M’LANA leaders share a common vision to develop a comprehensive service system to meet the needs of aging LGBT people. The study design and research aims have been developed by M’LANA in support of that shared vision. At TFI, the team conducting the study includes Aimee Van Wagenen, Judith Bradford, and Sammy Sass of the Center for Population Research in LGBT Health. For more information about M’LANA or the study, please contact Aimee Van Wagenen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Administration on Aging. (2011). Nutrition Services (OAA Title IIIC). Retrieved 5/13/2011, from http://www.aoa.gov/AoARoot/AoA_Programs/HCLTC/Nutrition_Services/index.aspx
Altshuler, N., & Schimmel, J. (2010). Aging in place: Do Older Americans Act Title III services reach those most likely to enter nursing homes? Washington, DC: Mathematica Policy Institute.
Fredriksen-Goldsen KI et al. (2011). The Aging and Health Report: Disparities and Resilience among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Older Adults. Seattle: Institute for Multigenerational Health.