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Australia’s homosexual population almost invisible in ageing policy

Media release

A new research report has confirmed that older and ageing gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex (GLBTI) people have been significantly overlooked when it comes to their unique needs in aged care.

The research, a joint effort by Curtin University and the GLBTI Retirement Association (GRAI), has led to the development of Australia’s first best practice guidelines for aged care accommodation providers when dealing with  GLBTI clients.

The guidelines provide retirement and residential aged care homes with strategies to better recognise, understand and meet the needs of the ageing GLBTI population.

Lead investigator, Ms Jude Comfort from Curtin’s WA Centre for Health Promotion Research and Chair of GRAI, said the project was important as it presents the findings of a state-wide survey of aged care accommodation providers and aims to draw attention to the unique needs of GLBTI people.

“Approximately eight to ten per cent of the population identify as GLBTI and by 2051 it is estimated that there will be half a million GLBTI people aged 65 years and over living in Australia,” she said.

“GLTBI people have unique needs and this stems from a lifetime of having to hide their identity, discrimination, abuse, and lack of legal recognition of lifetime partnerships.

“There has been very little understanding or recognition of the needs of older GLBTI people, and we hope this research and the development of these guidelines will be a significant step in addressing this issue.”

The 12-month project funded by a Lotterywest grant studied retirement accommodation and aged care service providers’ practices and attitudes towards older GLBTI clients.

“One of the findings of study was that most service providers were unaware of any GLBTI residents living at their centres,” Ms Comfort said.

“This is not surprising as many older GLBTI people hide their identity for fear of lack of understanding, reprisal, reduced quality of care and discrimination.

“The study also found that GLBTI issues are rarely included in policy frameworks as only 37 per cent of respondents’ organisational policy and procedures made specific reference to GLBTI people.”

The best practice guidelines that have resulted from this research are based on five identified principles:

1. Inclusive and safe environment;
2. Open communication;
3. GLBTI sensitive practices;
4. Staff education and training; and
5. GLBTI inclusive organisational policies and procedures.

“These guidelines should be used to support existing best practice frameworks used by retirement and residential aged care service providers,” Ms Comfort said.

“They are intended to highlight issues specific to older GLBTI people and provide practical strategies to assist in greater understanding and better management of GLBTI people.

“While there has been greater acceptance of GLBTI people in recent decades, baby boomers will be far more vocal about their needs, but those already in their older years are unlikely to feel this confident.”

The report and guidelines were launched by Australia’s first Ambassador for Ageing, Noeline Brown on Monday 12 July 2010.

Ms Brown said that this project was significant as it highlighted an important issue in ageing.

“I was appointed the Ambassador for Ageing because the Australian Government wanted older Australians to have a strong voice,” she said.

 “My role is to ensure that older Australians from all walks of life are able to have a positive ageing experience.

“This research highlights the aged care challenges that confront this important section of Australia’s ageing population.  As such, I welcome the research as a valuable contribution to the ongoing debate about positive ageing in this country.”

The full research report, We don’t have any of those people here: Retirement accommodation and aged-care issue for non-heterosexual populations, and the full best practice guidelines, Accommodating for older GLBTI people, can be downloaded from:

Contact:  Ann Marie Lim; Public Relations, Curtin; 08 9266 4241; 0401 103 532; OR Monique Billstein; Public Relations; Curtin; 08 9266 3353; 0401 103 018; OR Jude Comfort; WA Centre for Health Promotion Research, Curtin; 08 9266 2365; 0422 654 244;