The final years

It’s not the most pleasant question to think about, but at some point it must be addressed: How do you want to spend your final years of life? To the extent that we have any control over our life span, as we grow older, we come closer to death. So, really — how do you want to spend those final years? And, as an LGBTQ person, how to find caretakers and a place where you are accepted for who you are?

These were some of the issues that came up at the LGBTQ Aging Summit in Harrisburg earlier this week, and they are urgent. Pennsylvania has more than 2- million residents aged 65 and older; of them, an estimated 150,000 identify as LGBTQ. No statewide protections exist to prevent or adequately deal with LGBTQ discrimination, including among the elderly.

A loss of physical and mental autonomy among elders raises the question of who will care for them. Will they be tolerant? Trained in the needs of LGBTQ people? As the Philadelphia-based Elder Initiative points out, social isolation is far more prevalent in the older LGBTQ community for a couple of reasons: These seniors are less likely to have children and a supportive extended-family network, and they have probably experienced discrimination and hostility while seeking healthcare. The latter drives them to avoid encounters with non-LGBTQ providers. 

Representatives from state agencies attending the summit overtly acknowledged the gaps in care available to this wave of aging citizens. The impetus is also on the community to continue to drive the agenda that elderly people, LGBTQ in particular, are a priority and require humane, attentive care in their final years.

We carefully plan so many aspects of our lives with the notable exception of our exit from it. And yet, as we age, despite financial and socioeconomic status, we will all need some sort of outside assistance. It is incumbent upon the state to utilize our taxes to ensure a good quality of life for all until the end.

After all, one of the signs of a society’s progress is reflected in how we treat the most vulnerable.