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Older LGBT Adults Face Chronic Illness, Other Health Challenges

New report highlights health disparities and pandemic impact

Older LGBT adults are facing health disparities and the impact of COVID.
Vladimir Vladimirov / Getty Images

LGBT adults are more likely than their non-LGBT peers to report certain health-related challenges and negative impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a July report from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF).

The report, which was based on findings from a nationally representative survey of adults ages 18 to 64, helps illuminate some of the long-standing health disparities experienced by people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or “something else” other than straight.

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"There is a lack of data in terms of health data for LGBT people,” says report author Lindsey Dawson, associate director of HIV policy at KFF, who notes that this poses a challenge for policymakers and researchers seeking to address the community's health needs. “[In] doing our report, we've certainly sought to add to the knowledge base.”

Health conditions and provider experiences

Among the disparities highlighted in the findings is health status: LGBT respondents were more likely to report being in fair or poor health than their non-LGBT counterparts, and a higher share of LGBT people reported having an ongoing health condition that requires regular monitoring, medical care or medication.

Among LGBT adults 45 to 64, for example, more than three-quarters (77 percent) said they have a chronic health condition, compared to 54 percent of non-LGBT people in that age group.

The researchers also looked at LGBT respondents’ experiences with preventive health care. Thirty-five percent of LGBT women ages 40 to 64 reported having a mammogram in the past two years, compared to 64 percent of non-LGBT women of that age. (Screening guidelines vary, but mammograms are generally recommended every one or two years beginning at age 40.)

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But some forms of care, including testing for sexually transmitted infections and HIV, were more common among older LGBT adults than their non-LGBT peers. LGBT respondents were also more likely to say they've had conversations with their health care provider about mental health and topics like housing security.

Pandemic impact

The report looked at the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, with nearly a quarter (24 percent) of LGBT people reporting that they have sought mental health care because of the pandemic, compared to 12 percent of non-LGBT respondents.

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This finding echoes research from the Kaiser Family Foundation conducted this year, which showed that three-quarters (74 percent) of LGBT people reported that the pandemic had a negative impact on their mental health, compared to 49 percent of non-LGBT respondents.

"One thing to recognize is that many LGBT people experience underlying rates of significant mental health and substance use disparities,” Dawson says. “But we also found … that LGBT people experienced the pandemic differently in some ways … [and] other research has pointed to the fact that LGBT people are more likely to work in hard-hit industries.”

According to the new report, LGBT adults were more likely than other adults to report having to quit a job for a coronavirus-related reason or to take time off of work because of personal illness with COVID-19, for caregiving for someone who was infected or to quarantine.

Among the 30 percent of LGBT people who reported having trouble paying medical bills in the last year, more than half (58 percent) said that the COVID-19 pandemic was at least in part to blame.

Sarah Elizabeth Adler joined aarp.org as a writer in 2018. Her pieces on science, art and culture have appeared in The Atlantic, where she was previously an editorial fellow, California magazine and elsewhere.

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