| Trinity Church of Northborough's welcoming approach on display/Photo by Douglas Flynn
LGBT caregivers experience many of the same responsibilities, demands and rewards of caring for a loved one that all other caregivers experience. But LGBT caregivers and anyone caring for a loved one in the LGBT community also face some unique issues and concerns.
The National Resource Center on LGBT Aging notes that LGBT older adults are twice as likely to age as a single person, twice as likely to live alone and three to four times less likely to have children to support them. Many LGBT older adults instead have "developed important social networks of partners, friends, ex-partners, neighbors and others. These networks are often referred to as 'families of choice.'"
Many caregivers for LGBT older adults are from these families of choice. And while the demands and rewards of caregiving are no different than for caregivers of biological relatives, there are often additional challenges. Most significantly, the rights of LGBT family of choice caregivers may not always be recognized under the law, or can be challenged by health care providers, staff or members of the care recipient's family of origin.
Issues facing LGBT caregivers
The challenges LGBT caregivers can face in caring for their loved ones makes having the proper legal documentation in order particularly important for LGBT caregivers.
Among the documents to have are an advance directive, health care proxy, living will, financial power of attorney, hospital visitation directive and HIPAA release. SAGE (Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders) has a checklist of documents in its "Guide to LGBT Caregiving."
The Family and Medical Leave Act entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons. Employees are able to take up to 12 weeks of leave in a 12-month period. The leave covers not only the employee's own medical issues, but also to care for a spouse, child or parent with a serious health condition.
That is obviously very important to family caregivers, but LGBT caregivers often cannot use this leave if they are caring for a partner, friend or another member of their family of choice. The U.S. Department of Labor did modify its definition of spouse to include legal same-sex marriages after the 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage. Also, some employers do allow employees to take leave to care for a family of choice members, so check with your employer if you are in that situation.
Family Caregiver Support Program
The Family Caregiver Support Program (FCSP) provides assistance, support and counseling to people caring for an older adult. The program is not limited to family of origin relatives. It is open to friends, partners and family of choice members.
Among the services the Family Caregiver Support Program can provide:
- One-on-one consultation to assess needs, identify options and provide referrals to community-based services
- Information about community resources and services
- Assistance gaining access to those services
- Individual supportive counseling
- Connections to ongoing support
- Follow up contact as needed
The FCSP is free and open to any person caring for an adult 60 years of age or older or a person with Alzheimer's disease of any age. The program is also open to grandparents or other non-parental relatives aged 55 or older caring for a grandchild under 18 or an adult with a disability aged 18-59.
FCSP's serving MetroWest:
BayPath Elder Services, Inc.
MetroWest towns served: Ashland, Dover, Framingham, Holliston, Hopkinton, Hudson, Marlborough, Natick, Northborough, Sherborn, Southborough, Sudbury, Wayland, Westborough
MetroWest towns served: Bellingham, Franklin, Hopedale, Medway, Mendon, Milford
HESSCO Elder Services
MetroWest towns served: Medfield, Millis, Norfolk
MetroWest towns served: Needham, Wellesley
For FCSPs covering the rest of Massachusetts, check out the MassOptions caregiver support page or visit 800AgeInfo. The FCSP is administered by Area Agencies on Aging throughout the nation. For information about programs outside Massachusetts, visit the U.S. Administration for Community Living.
Additional web resources
- Health Professionals Advancing LGBT Equality (previously known as the Gay & Lesbian Medical Association) is the world's largest and oldest association of LGBT healthcare professionals, with the mission of ensuring equality in healthcare for LGBT individuals and healthcare professionals. GLMA.org provides healthcare information for the LGBT community, including a free provider directory of LGBT welcoming healthcare providers.
- The LGBT Aging Project is a Boston-based non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender older adults have equal access to the life-prolonging benefits, protections, services and institutions that their heterosexual neighbors take for granted.
- The LGBT Aging Project is also a founding member of the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging, the country's first and only technical assistance resource center aimed at improving the quality of services and supports offered to LGBT older adults. Their site features a section dedicated to LGBT caregivers and the issues they face, as well as a downloadable Guide to LGBT Caregiving [pdf].
- The Family Caregiver Alliance features extensive information about LGBT caregiving, including a page on Special Concerns of LGBT Caregivers, Legal Issues for LGBT Caregivers and LGBT Caregiving: Frequently Asked Questions.
- SAGE also has more information and resources for LGBT caregivers.
- The Social Security Administration has recently launched a new section on its website for same-sex couples, along with a downloadable guidebook, "Social Security: What Same-Sex Couples Need to Know."