MICHIGAN — When Roger Bushnell got married to his partner of 30 years six years ago, he made sure to do it on a day that was important to him.
“We actually got married on the anniversary of my dad’s passing,” Bushnell said during a Zoom interview with FOX 17 on Tuesday morning. “That was done because he was always very much concerned as to why he couldn’t go to his boy’s wedding. He wanted to be a part of that and so that was our nod to him.”
His father died of Alzheimer’s and his mother was diagnosed with vascular dementia over a year later. Bushnell was their caretaker.
Now that he and his husband are getting older they’re starting to plan for the years ahead.
“I know myself, with my husband and I, we’ve been recently having quite a few discussions about making sure we’re set up in the future,” said Bushnell, who’s the director of sales of marketing at Allegria Village, a continued care retirement community in Dearborn. “Because not only do we not have children, but because of some religious differences, shall I say between my sister-in-law and my husband, and the relationship was not built as strongly as I wish it would’ve been with my nieces and nephews.”
Bushnell said in the LGBTQ+ community, 1 in 5 people will be a caregiver to a loved one battling Alzheimer’s or dementia, whether it be someone in their biological family or in their chosen family.
For heterosexuals and the cisgendered community, it’s 1 in 6.
However, when it comes to finding a caregiver for gay and queer people, it can be challenging, he said.
“Historically, they have not had access to marriage, so they’re less likely to be partnered. They’re less likely to have children, and partners and children are very often our natural support system,” said Kate Pierce, program director at the Alzheimer’s Association - Michigan Chapter. “They’re the folks that are going to give you that nudge to go to the doctor’s to notice some things maybe you don’t want notice in yourself.”
Pierce added that when people don’t go to the doctor, then diseases — if they have any — can’t be detected early. Subsequently, they miss out on support and services, like Meals On Wheels or home care, that they need.
They miss out, she said, because of fear.
“You just don’t know if the person that’s coming into my home is going to be accepting of the individuals and understandably [you want] to protect the home as a safe space,” she said during a Zoom interview with FOX 17 last Friday. “Even right now here in Michigan it is not illegal to discriminate against someone in healthcare, in housing, based on their sexual orientation [and] based on their gender presentation.”
Pierce said the fear of discrimination is widespread in the LGBTQ+ community and it keeps people indoors, which can lead to extreme isolation and subsequently premature hospitalization and early death.
The Alzheimer’s Association reported that 32%, or 1 in 3 LGBTQ+ older people, are concerned about “being alone or growing old alone.”
“In fact, 30% of LGBTQ+ community feels the need to go back into the closet,” Bushnell said. “That’s one reason why I’m very passionate about Sage Metro Detroit and Alzheimer’s Association taking the lead in helping communities understand the specific issues of our community.”
He said because of health issues like being overweight, hypertension, and high rates of alcohol and substance use, people in the LGBTQ+ community are more prone to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
However, both Bushnell and Pierce said they believe education is the best way to help businesses, companies, organizations, and everyday people, connect with those in the community access healthcare.
“We should be considering seeking training for those in our industry to better understand where they’re coming from, some fears they’re facing. Then there’s some very unique needs for our transgender folks as well, and understanding some of the specific needs for them,” Bushnell said. “So, I really think just going into communities and helping them better understand the challenges facing the LGBTQ+ community.”