Social Isolation Loneliness Among LGBT Older Adults: Lessons Learned from a Pilot Friendly Caller Program

Abstract

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTQ +) older adults face heightened risks of social isolation, given decades of discrimination. Research on telephone buddy programs with non-LGBTQ + participants has proved predominantly unsuccessful at addressing social isolation. However, evidence suggests that LGBTQ + adults may actually benefit from telephone buddy programs and in ways uniquely different from other groups. This article shares lessons learned from 35 participants across a 12-month pilot program that matched LGBTQ + older adults to mostly LGBTQ + volunteer callers of various ages. Over one-third of participants identified as people of color and over 20% as transgender or gender nonbinary. This project employed community-based participatory action research to identify, implement, and evaluate the program. Data includes information from questionnaires and telephone interviews prior to and during the program. Nearly all participants identified the importance of LGBTQ + community in addressing social isolation and loneliness. Intergenerational matches also provided promising findings for making connections. While the project aimed to capture two groups (LGBTQ + older adults experiencing isolation and volunteer callers providing support), the project revealed a third group: LGBTQ + older adults at risk of social isolation. This third group usually emerged among the “Volunteer” callers who identified concerns about their own social isolation. The persistence of structural barriers also required the program to adapt to best meet participant needs. This article concludes with lessons learned and clinical implications for social workers who are addressing social isolation and loneliness among LGBTQ + older adults.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    One person did not identify their sexual orientation, so the percentages for sexual orientation are based on n=20.

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Acknowledgements

This pilot program and research support was provided, in part, through grants from the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan HOPE Fund and the University of Michigan School of Social Work Gerontology Learning Community. The authors would also like to thank the program participants for their involvement and candid responses to better evaluate the program, and volunteers and staff for their time and commitment to this project and to addressing social isolation and the needs of LGBT older adults. The authors would also like to thank our research assistant Katrine Weismantle for her invaluable assistance in gathering and synthesizing articles for review.

Funding

This pilot program and research support was provided, in part, through grants from the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan HOPE Fund and the University of Michigan School of Social Work Gerontology Learning Community.

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Correspondence to Angela K. Perone.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national committee with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Because this research focused on community-based program evaluation and self-assessment, it was granted “not regulated” status by the University of Michigan Institutional Review Board (HUM00145365).

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Even though the program did not fall under IRB regulations, we received informed consent from all participants to anonymously share data collected in reports and publications that support further development and improvement of this and other similar programs in the future.

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Perone, A.K., Ingersoll-Dayton, B. & Watkins-Dukhie, K. Social Isolation Loneliness Among LGBT Older Adults: Lessons Learned from a Pilot Friendly Caller Program. Clin Soc Work J 48, 126–139 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10615-019-00738-8

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Keywords

  • Social isolation
  • Loneliness
  • LGBTQ +
  • Older adults
  • Intergenerational
  • African Americans