This week, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Office of Minority Health released its first ever report comparing the health of LGB and heterosexual older adults. The report used data from the 2013-2014 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), the first year that survey asked about sexual orientation.
Just under one percent of adults 65 and older described themselves as lesbian, gay or bisexual on the NHIS. That’s a much smaller number than in other age groups. The NHIS also identifies fewer lesbian, gay or bisexual adults of any age than other national surveys.
Despite the group’s small size, researchers identified several differences by sexual orientation, both negative and positive. For instance, 15 percent of self-described lesbian, gay and bisexual older adults had five or more alcoholic drinks each week, compared to only eight percent of heterosexuals. However, they were more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to say they were in “excellent” or “very good” health.
Including sexual orientation and transgender status on national health surveys like NHIS is important, but the results can be complicated. For example, some LGBTQ older adults go “back into the closet” as they age, especially when their caregivers may not accept their sexual orientation or gender identity. Older adults who are comfortable telling interviewers they are LGBTQ may be those with the most affirming communities or greater physical and financial independence. As a result, lesbian, gay and bisexual adults identified in the NHIS may appear healthier than others. As a whole, LGBTQ older adults face a range of health challenges.
HRC’s Health and Aging Program works to ensure health, safety and independence for LGBTQ older adults. The program’s Healthcare Equality Index helps healthcare facilities implement policies and staff training that lead to LGBTQ-inclusive care.
To learn more about HRC’s Health and Aging program, visit http://www.hrc.org/explore/topic/health-and-aging.