Presidents Corner – August 2016
You know this “aging” thing is receiving a lot of attention these days, in part because of the large number of people who are currently in or entering that stage of life. “Living” is essentially the process of staying on the right side of the ground — it begins with birth and ends with death. Somewhere along that journey we begin to call it “aging”—a distinction that really doesn’t make a lot of sense since “aging” obviously starts on day one. But we recognize that distinction between “living” and “aging” at some point I think because we understand that the challenges change significantly.
I, along with a number of other Prime Timers, have been involved in an interesting project over the last several months. It began when we participated in the MCC Conference on Aging Gracefully back in January. There was a presentation made about the City’s efforts to address the issues around aging in Austin as an “Age Friendly City”. As the presenter explained the input that had been gathered from neighborhood groups and businesses a participant asked how the gay perspective on aging was addressed. Those of us in the audience at the time decided to take on the task with Austin Up, of getting that missing piece. We got a group of LGBT elders together in April and asked them to talk about aging in Austin. Among their observations:
- Austin doesn’t have a specific area or neighborhood where the gay and lesbian community is concentrated. With single member Council districts this means that we lack a political voice in city government.
- We’ve been trying to establish a gay community center in Austin for years.
- We are the Stonewall Generation, the first to age openly. There is a lack of understanding about issues of the aging LGBT community.
- There is ageism in our community. People don’t want to talk about aging. Ageism is more of a problem among gays than among lesbians.
- Aging poses unique challenges for LGBT people; we have seen before that those challenges are not likely to be recognized or addressed by government in a timely manner. As a result, it is up to us to lead the effort as we have had to do before.
About half the group indicated a desire to stay in their homes as they age, in part because of concerns about living openly in assisted living facilities. Factors affecting their ability to do so include taxes, transportation, and access to services (trouble finding the right help).
Out of that meeting came a desire to continue to explore the issues impacting LGBT elders in Austin and determine what needed to be done. Two additional meetings have taken place since and the group is looking at the options for organizing. I’ll keep you posted on the progress being made.
During these discussions I have heard from a number of people much more familiar than I am with both the issues LGBT folks face and the services that exist to help us. One of the challenges to successful aging that I hear over and over again has been the impact of social isolation — the lack of a social support network. Everyone suffers from time to time from some degree of depression and certainly aging offers plenty of opportunities. It seems that the best nonmedical “cure” is a supportive friend who can listen, offer tea and sympathy and tell you everything will be OK. A positive mental outlook and resilience to crisis are key indicators of good mental health.
Social isolation has also been shown to be a risk factor for elder abuse; it increases the likelihood of poor nutrition; and, it often results in delays in seeking medical care as well as increasing the likelihood of re-hospitalization following an accident or illness.
Bottom line — social isolation contributes to premature mortality.
Woody was ahead of his time
It would seem that this newly focused interest on aging and the research that has resulted very nicely proves what Woody Baldwin discerned thirty years ago when he set about founding Prime Timers — that older gay men needed a social organization, opportunities to enjoy one another’s company, a support network. Of course he also thought that younger men could benefit by seeing that we “can still have fun when we’re over forty.”
So the next time you enjoy a Prime Timer function, call up a member to check on how they’re doing, provide someone a ride or just pay your Prime Timer dues — remember, you may be making a real contribution toward longer and happier lives for all of us.