Q&A with Cathy Croghan of Training to Serve: Caregiving and LGBT Elders

November 2010

Cathy Croghan, a geriatric community health advocate and board member of Training to Serve, recently shared the following information with Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging (MAAA) about caregiving issues of importance to older LGBT persons.

What makes caregiving different for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender caregivers in our community?

In mainstream culture, approximately 80% of elder long-term care is provided by informal caregivers who are legally recognized family members through marriage or birth. LGBT elders are often likely to receive care from non-traditional caregivers, or people not legally related to them. LGBT elders are twice as likely to age without a spouse and to live alone, and are three times more likely to have no children. In addition, reluctance to disclose LGBT identity and/or lack of acceptance by biological families may lead to estrangement and affect care. While important social networks—or “families of choice”—are common within LGBT communities, this social support is not recognized under Minnesota law.


How does the National Family Caregiver Support Program of the Older Americans Act support caregivers of LGBT elders?

In 2000 Congress incorporated the National Family Caregiver Support Act into the federal Older Americans Act (OAA) through the reauthorization process. Since that time the OAA provides funding for programs that support family and other caregivers. By including "other caregivers," this legislation acknowledged that much informal caregiving is done by individuals not legally related to the recipient. Although the Act does not specifically recognize LGBT families, it does allow for support by caregivers not legally defined as family. Caregiver support through the National Family Caregiver Support Program includes funding for information, training, individual counseling, support groups, and respite care. This is an important resource for LGBT communities across the country since half of supported caregivers report that their care recipient would need to consider living in a nursing home without the support of OAA-funded services. Unfortunately, many LGBT elders and service providers are not aware that the Act’s inclusive language provides LGBT caregivers with protection.


What should I remember about LGBT caregiving?

First of all, there are more similarities than differences. All caregivers provide a critically needed and difficult job. They help the care recipient remain in their community. They save important personal and family resources that would otherwise be spent on institutional care. An important difference is that there are limited infrastructure supports to assist LGBT caregivers. Knowing what resources are available and how to access them are important first steps in becoming more inclusive. We can also encourage LGBT caregivers to create legal documents to improve their ability to care for their loved one. These may include medical and financial powers of attorney, as well as advanced health care directives.


Where can I find resources for LGBT caregivers?

Keep a copy of Improving the Lives of LGBT Older Adults. Contact the Family Caregiver Alliance, an advocacy and service non-profit. The Alliance also offers an online LGBT caregiving discussion group. Make certain your organization offers welcoming and respectful services for LGBT and all clients. Training to Serve at www.trainingtoserve.org is a local organization that provides training and resources to help senior service providers better serve LGBT elders. Keep a copy of Planning with Purpose: Legal Basics for LGBT Elders. This resource provides proactive information. Get in touch with a LGBT dementia caregiver support group, offered by the Alzheimer’s Association of Minnesota and North Dakota. Contact Denise Wickiser at (952) 857-0521 for further information.

For information contact Catherine Croghan at crogh001@umn.edu. This piece was originally published in the November 2010 edition of Aging News, the newsletter of Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging (MAAA). Visit MAAA for more information.