Older adults are at greater risk for social isolation which can lead to a cascade of mental and physical health problems. LGBTQ elders in the community may be impacted by isolation and loneliness in higher numbers if they are single, do not have adult children, or are estranged from their families. A program created at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to help LGBTQ seniors feel more connected and less lonely.
According to a recent WXXI News report, the SAGEConnect program pairs older LGBTQ community members with volunteers who make friendly check-in calls at least once a week for at least six weeks. The free program, launched by advocacy group, SAGE USA, helps LGBTQ seniors feel less alone and more connected to their community.
LGBTQ elders are twice as likely to be single and live alone and are four times less likely to have children. They are also less likely to have access to caregiving support than their heterosexual peers. Elders who register for the program receive a 30-minute call each week from a volunteer for at least six weeks. Volunteers are vetted by SAGE and privacy is protected by using the volunteer management system Mon Ami to place and receive calls at a set time.
Volunteers are matched with seniors based on personal preference. Some elders prefer to chat with a younger volunteer living nearby, while others wish to be paired with a peer of the same gender, sexual orientation, or race. It may take several weeks to find the ideal match. But once made, the program can help seniors make a safe new connection with someone they might never have otherwise met, providing new opportunities for growth and inclusion.
New research shows that LGBTQ elders face unique challenges as they age, reporting higher levels of loneliness and severe isolation and an inability to access welcoming housing, healthcare and other culturally competent services that support healthy aging. Social isolation is associated with a major risk for premature mortality comparable to other factors including high blood pressure, smoking, or obesity. Interventions, like the SAGEConnect program and others, can help improve social conditions for LGBTQ elders, boosting their overall health and well-being.
To access services in Canada for LGBTQ seniors, follow this link to Employment and Social Development Canada.