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Get Involved - It's Good For You

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Getting older and wondering what your future might be like: where will you live, shop, and enjoy the company of others? You've got plenty of company. The World Health Organization has been involved in helping communities around the world make better preparations for an aging population. Over 170 cities in our own country are in the process of putting together and implementing "age friendly" plans, making efforts to help people live easily and comfortably in their homes and communities as they age.

 

A year ago, Austin Prime Timers participated in a conference on aging sponsored by Metropolitan Community Church. One of the presentations that day was on Austin's efforts to reinvigorate its plan for making Austin an "age friendly city". As a part of that effort, a local nonprofit had conducted meetings with various groups, including neighborhood organizations and small businesses to ask what was needed in their view to better serve Austinites as they aged. One of the ladies in the MCC audience asked a very logical question: "Where is the LGBT input in this discussion?" Well, it turns out there hadn't been any and thus began an interesting experience.

Austin Prime Timers offered to partner with "AustinUp" to sponsor a meeting to get that LGBT input and boy, we got it! A room full of folks (including a number of Prime Timers) sat down on a Saturday morning last April and covered the walls with their ideas and concerns. Part of what we heard about aging that day: "We are the Stonewall Generation", among other things. We are the first generation to go through the aging process "openly out". We don't have to look any further than our own founder, Woody Baldwin, to remember when going into senior living also meant going back into the closet. We should not assume that the agencies and institutions caring for seniors are prepared for that to change.
"There are more people HIV+ people over 50 than younger than 50." The "gay plague" is no longer just a young man's issue.

Unfortunately, there are few services focused on the over-50 age group.

"Gay friendly" Austin has no organized LGBT community, no community center, no "gayborhood", no means of communicating, and therefore no practical way for making our influence count. In today's world, we are recognizing that is a problem.

As we sat and looked at all the issues that we had raised, the group came to one conclusion. History has taught our generation two lessons: It's likely a mistake to assume that somebody is going to solve all this for us and we know we can do it ourselves if we get organized, roll up our sleeves, and get started. And with that, the Austin LGBT Coalition on Aging was created.

Learn

We have learned a lot over the past year, working with the folks in the Coalition. I had no idea that Austin was the second fastest growing metropolitan area in the nation for persons over 55. And during this past year, Austin was recognized as one of the best places in the country for LGBT retirees. At the same time, the increased cost of living in the city has driven many long-time residents as well as new ones to the suburbs where services are less available and attitudes may be not as friendly. We've looked at some of the statistics that distinguish LGBT aging.

While 80% of long-term care in the U.S. is provided by family members, we are twice as likely to be single and three to four times more likely to be without children than our heterosexual counterparts. For a number of reasons, we are likely to have less financial resources. Although we have higher levels of chronic and other health problems, we are more likely to delay getting medical help and prescriptions. Of course, it was no real surprise that growing older gay was going to be a unique experience. After all, was growing up gay any different than growing up straight?

We've seen a wide range of approaches for utilizing technology to solve some of the challenges associated with aging. Our local IBM facility has exhibited their work in using sensors to track our daily routine, from getting up to bedtime, utilizing computer analytics to spot health trends and safety issues so that seniors can have the option of "aging in place".
Others have demonstrated how technology can accommodate medical appointments without the need for transportation, solving a problem that seniors often face. I've learned about housing options that I never considered, from senior mobile home developments to "small houses", senior co-ops and virtual villages, all enabled or constrained by local building codes and development regulations.

The most important thing that we have learned over the past year is the importance of social involvement. Faced with all of the issues that we identified, it is understandable the LGBT seniors are tempted to withdraw, to make as comfortable a nest as they can and crawl in it. While that may appear to be the easiest if not best solution, it is actually the worst thing we can do. Social isolation has become recognized as an important contributing factor in increased morbidity, or putting it more plainly: a shorter life. In England, emergency crews are trained to look for signs of social isolation when responding to emergency calls and when they spot issues they call in agencies to address the problems. Woody intuitively recognized this years ago when he founded Prime Timers and it is as true today as it was then. We don't just need other people to help us get tasks done, we need that contact and involvement to keep us going.

Get Involved

Chances are pretty good that your community is working on an age friendly plan. If they aren't, you might want to start asking, "Why not?" Many of the challenges associated with aging exist for gay and straight alike. Many, but not all. Do you know what services exist in your community to help folks stay in their homes if they choose to do so? Do you know what senior living facilities are available for those who don't? In either case, have their staff been trained on gay issues? Are they willing and able to provide services to gays in an appropriate manner?

Prime Timers organizations are uniquely positioned to help their members become involved in designing a community environment that is safe, affordable, and welcoming regardless of age or sexual orientation. By getting involved, you will help build a better community. Medical research shows that you will also build a healthier you.

Get Involved
It's good for you

 

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Last modified on Sunday, 03 September 2017 17:31
Charles Curry