I once cared for an aging lesbian who began to have memory problems.
She went to a neurologist who said bluntly, “Get your affairs in order. You have Alzheimer’s disease.” My patient was confused, devastated, and depressed. She asked a companion to accompany her on her return visit. This time the neurologist said, even more bluntly, “I never told you that you have Alzheimer’s disease!” Enraged, her companion suggested that she get a second opinion. The second neurologist compassionately confirmed the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
Most Americans, especially those over sixty, worry about the quality, access, and affordability of health care. In general, the sicker you are, the less satisfied you are with the care you receive. Writing in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2008, Jennifer Wolff and Debra Roter suggested that having a companion accompany you to your doctor visits allows even the frailest and most vulnerable to have more confidence in their doctor’s skills, to feel better about the information they receive, and to have a better relationship with their doctor. According to the findings, companions facilitated communication, recorded physicians’ instructions, provided medical history, asked questions, and explained instructions to patients. In addition, they offered moral support, provided transportation, and handled details like appointments and paperwork. The more functions the companion performed, the higher the patient’s satisfaction for the services received.
It is difficult to age well without a social support system, and families often act as a protective buffer. For many LGBT seniors, prejudice disrupted their lives and their connections with their families of origin. When LGBT individuals become estranged from their families, that buffer is removed. They are also less likely to have children of their own. The MetLife study found that more than three-quarters of gay men and women rely on the emotional and social support of their “families of choice” rather than their families of origin.
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