The study also finds those identifying as LGBTI experience higher levels of psychological distress than the general population, which is more marked among those living alone or not in a relationship.
The new research, published by Associate Professor Hughes, is titled A Report of the Survey of the Health and Wellbeing of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Older People in NSW, 2013-2014, and compiled from a survey of 312 NSW LGBTI people aged from 50 to 84 years.
Of those surveyed, 48.6% identified as female, 46.5% as male, 4.5% as transgender and 2.9% as 'gender queer', with 57.4% in a relationship with an average length of 17.35 years. The longest reported relationship was 50 years.
Most respondents (60%) were from Sydney, with 16.1% from a regional city, 15.2% from a regional town and 9.7% from a rural area.
Professor Hughes says there is a need for mainstream aged care providers to undergo sensitivity training to become more familiar with the unique needs and concerns of the ageing LGBTI population.
“Older LGBTI people thinking of accessing aged care services have often had many experiences of discrimination when they were younger and they carry that with them through their lives and so that influences how they engage with service providers,” he says.
“The key concern is that people won’t seek support of assistance when they need it because of fears of discrimination. These fears could be unfounded because a lot of aged care providers are becoming a lot more LGBTI sensitive but that fear of discrimination might impact on their willingness to access services when they need it.
“That has all sorts of implications for healthy ageing, premature hospitalisation and people having health conditions that get to a crisis point rather than engaging with service providers earlier on."
According to Professor Hughes, concern for many people is that they’ll have to "go back into the closet" when they’re accessing services later in life.
"Of course that’s absurd. That’s the worst thing that could potentially happen to someone," he says.
One of the key findings was that LGBTI people experience higher levels of psychological distress than members of the general public, which was more marked among those living alone or not in a relationship.
“It’s those people who are isolated, not only those people who are living alone but those people who feel disconnected, who are affected,” Professor Hughes says.
“There were strong associations between things like feelings of loneliness and not being in a relationship to high levels of psychological distress.
“The people who were lonelier and had higher levels of psychological distress preferred to engage in activities with other LGBTI people and those in an older age group – people who seemed more like them and they could relate to.
“Apart from those people who were quite isolated and lonely, the majority of people in city, regional and rural areas did actually have quite a lot of friends they could rely on, and not just LGBTI friends but straight friends as well. It’s important not to forget that diversity of friendships people have.”
While lesbian, gay and bisexual people had gained greater acceptance, Professor Hughes says transgender and intersex people still face significant discrimination.