The first dementia prevalence data from a large population of lesbian, gay and bisexual older adults was reported at the 2018 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Chicago.

Researchers from University of California, San Francisco and Kaiser Permanente Division of Research, Oakland, CA, examined the prevalence of dementia among 3,718 sexual minority adults age over 60 years who participated in the Kaiser Permanente Research Program on Genes, Environment, and Health (RPGEH). Dementia diagnoses were collected from medical records.

Over nine years of follow-up, the overall crude prevalence of dementia was 7.4% for sexual minority older adults in this study population. For comparison, Alzheimer’s Association 2018 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures reported US prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease dementia and other dementias for age 65+ at approximately 10%. According to the researchers, significant rates of depression, hypertension, stroke and cardiovascular disease in the study population may be contributing factors to the level of dementia.

Jason Flatt, PhD, MPH, Assistant Professor at the Institute for Health & Aging, School of Nursing, University of California, San Francisco, said: “Current estimates suggest that more than 200,000 sexual minorities in the US are living with dementia, but — before our study — almost nothing was known about the prevalence of dementia among people in this group who do not have HIV/AIDS-related dementia. Though our new findings provide important initial insights, future studies aimed at better understanding risk and risk factors for Alzheimer’s and other dementias in older sexual minorities are greatly needed.

“Our findings highlight the need for culturally competent healthcare and practice for older sexual minorities at risk for, or currently living with, Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia. There are also important implications for meeting the long-term care services and caregiving needs of this community. Given the concerns of social isolation and limited access to friend and family caregivers, there is a strong need to create a supportive healthcare environment and caregiving resources for sexual minority adults living with dementia."

Sam Fazio, PhD, Alzheimer’s Association Director of Quality Care and Psychosocial Research, added: “With the growing prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease dementia and the swelling population of LGBT older adults, we place a high priority on examining the intersections of Alzheimer’s disease, sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression. A more thorough and thoughtful understanding of this intersection will enable us to better meet the needs of LGBT elders living with dementia and their caregivers.

“Encouraging people to access healthcare services and make healthy lifestyle changes can have a positive impact on both LGBT and non-LGBT communities. Effective outreach to LGBT communities that is sensitive to racial, ethnic, and cultural differences could result in earlier diagnosis, which has been linked to better outcomes."