Let’s be honest, our society can often be obsessed with youth and fighting the realities of aging. It can therefore be difficult to give honest thought to what it really means to age in a healthy way. Yet, all of us are aging, and our communities need to address how to best ensure that LGBT people are aging in ways that promote physical, mental and emotional wellness.
Aging healthfully is no easy feat. Rather, healthy aging depends on the interaction of many different facets of our lives, each of which needs to be worked at and nurtured.
Nutrition and physical activity
It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of information we hear about what foods we need to give up, what new exercise regimens we must try and what new diet trend is sweeping the nation. The link throughout these messages is that nutrition and physical activity play important roles in our health. This importance is heightened as we age and encounter many natural, age-related health issues. Good nutrition and exercise now, at whatever your age, will serve as a protective factor later in life.
Getting older does not mean that sexual activity and fulfillment must come to an end. It also does not mean that safer-sex practices should come to an end. LGBT individuals already face a heightened risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. That risk only increases when we stop taking precautions later in life. Men between the ages of 50-65 are among the fastest-growing groups of new HIV diagnoses. Hepatitis C, HPV, syphilis and gonorrhea are all still out there. Taking precautions and getting tested for HIV and other STIs is necessary as long as you are sexually active, no matter your age.
In most cases, our need for health-care services increases as we get older. Many LGBT people have experienced discrimination in health-care settings at some point in their lives. It is extremely important that health-care services are sensitive to our unique needs. Take the time to find a doctor with whom you are comfortable. Frank and open discussions about your health questions and needs are critical.
Accessing health care can also come with a high price tag. If you are over 65, Medicare can help you to afford doctor visits and medications that you may need. The Health Insurance Marketplace (www.healthcare.gov) through the Affordable Care Act has made health insurance more affordable for many. You can find out more about your health insurance options by calling C.A.R.I.E. at 215-545-5728 or by visiting www.medicare.gov.
As we age, it can be difficult to maintain the important relationships in our lives. LGBT older adults face significant risk of becoming socially isolated and must put extra effort into nurturing their friendships and connections. Staying connected with family, friends and support networks is key in preventing the depression and social isolation that trouble many older people.
Becoming comfortable using the Internet and social media can help you stay connected, even with physical or geographic limitations.
Finding new ways to engage with others in your community can improve your physical, mental and emotional health. Volunteering is a great way to share your expertise, give back in meaningful ways and form new relationships. Programs in Philadelphia through the William Way LGBT Community Center, the LGBT Elder Initiative and senior and community centers around the city provide many opportunities for social engagement, volunteering and connecting with others.
Many of us have complicated relationships with organized religions. Despite this, most researchers agree that a healthy sense of spirituality can protect against many physical, mental and emotional health issues as we age. You do not need to believe in a certain god in order to experience spiritual wellness, and spirituality does not have to equate with any religion at all. Spirituality for you may mean attending church each Sunday, or it may mean meditating and doing yoga in the park. Whatever it is, finding activities that nurture your spiritual side can help reduce many of the health risks that we encounter as we grow older.
Want to learn more? The LGBT Elder Initiative is hosting a workshop on healthy aging on Oct. 25 at Center in the Park, 5818 Germantown Ave. For more information, contact the Elder Initiative at 267-546-3448 or at [email protected].