Everyone has a story to tell, and it turns out that telling your story — sharing it with others — produces benefits in all sorts of ways. That's why an AARP Foundation grant to support SAGE Story deserves attention. SAGE Story is an outgrowth of the work of an organization called Service & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders (SAGE), which was founded in 1978 in New York City to help support older LGBT people.
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The SAGE Story project conducts workshops and seeks to gather personal accounts from around the nation with a two-pronged purpose: to improve the storytelling skills of older LGBT people, who can tend to be reticent to share what are often difficult life experiences; and to contribute valuable information to a broader public and political discussion of such issues as aging and long-term care as they specifically apply to the LGBT community.
AARP Foundation has particular interest in the SAGE Story project because of its potentially powerful positive impact on the problem of isolation in the aging LGBT community. The facts about the risks to this group are staggering. To begin with, studies show that LGBT elders are twice as likely to live alone as their heterosexual peers, are half as likely to have a spouse or partner, and half as likely to have close relatives; they are also four times less likely to have children. In short, they're prime candidates to suffer the ill effects of social isolation.
Related: Visit the AARP Pride page
Further studies show the effects. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies has reported that LGBT elders are up to 30 percent less likely than heterosexual seniors to seek access to essential services such as visiting nurses, food stamps, senior centers and home-delivered meal plans. They also suffer increased rates of depression, obesity, alcohol and tobacco use, cardiovascular disease and HIV/AIDS.
AARP Foundation's $50,000 grant helps support storytelling skill-building workshops around the country, as well as an online story booth for digital submissions. And just as significantly, it helps the SAGE Story campaign partner with storytelling experts and policy-based organizations to bring real stories from real people into the public discussion. By giving at-risk LGBT elders their voice, SAGE Story helps tackle isolation both at the individual level and in a much broader way, by calling needed attention to the fact that social isolation is not just about being lonely; it's a genuine threat to the health and welfare of the aging community.