Researchers look to build framework for LGBTQ aging studies
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Although there is a lack of research and attention to sexual orientation and gender identity in the global aging health and research community, sessions at the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics World Congress taking place in San Francisco this week will track progress.
A preconference workshop July 22 gathered scholars and other professionals to share in a conversation about, "Building Framework for Culturally Informed Sexuality, Gender and LGBTQ Health Research."
About 60 people filled a room in Moscone Center West where eight panel researchers shared the unique and challenging dynamics of conducting research within culturally and environmentally different LGBTQ communities, along with strategies on how to improve LGBTQ aging research.
Panel presentations included projects focused on fostering end-of-life care for LGBTQ members, linking LGBTQ aging research to practice, reducing stigma and increasing awareness among health care providers surrounding transgender issues in India, strategies to better include bisexual-plus people (those who don't necessarily identify as being bisexual, but who have relationships with both sexes) in research, and more.
"It's important to hear the work successes, strategies, and challenges of other researchers and to brainstorm together for solutions," said Jason Flatt, an assistant professor for the Institute for Health and Aging at UCSF who was at the conference to gather information for his research project focusing on dementia risk in older adult LGBTQs. "There is not a lot of work in this area, but it's starting to grow. Here we can really think about the LGBTQ aging community from an international setting as well as a locally."
Recurring themes throughout the preconference were ideas on how to improve research methods. Strategies included the practice of innovative research methods, the integration of LGBTQ aging community members in the research process through what is known as participatory action research, collaborating across cultures to more deeply understand LGBTQ communities, and most importantly, ways to apply research that will make a difference in the lives of LGBTQ members.
Panel member Mark Hughes, Ph.D., a researcher and professor of social work at Southern Cross University in Australia, spoke specifically about ways to connect research with practice. He discussed the benefits of participatory action research, where subjects of research projects are treated as collaborators to create a more direct impact to their lives.
"We need to break down barriers between subjects and researchers," he said. "It's not just about researchers. It's a mutually constituted engagement imbedded in context. These practices promote a better understanding."
Some of his other strategies included engaging the community in the design stage of research, developing a better understanding of a diversity of experiences among LGBTQ aging communities, transforming organizations, and removing access barriers to research.
"We want to link research to practice to produce better and more impactful change in older LGBTQ peoples' lives," Hughes said.
Another international panel member Boya Hua, who is finishing her master's degree in mental health and social work at the University of Washington, spoke about the impact the process of cross-cultural research can have on developing countries like her home country, China, where only 1 percent of LGBTQ adults come out to their parents.
For China and other countries, the process of cross-cultural research can help build supportive environments and networks, help gain funding, and increase visibility of the LGBTQ community, she said.
"Cross-cultural research can act as an impetus to social change in developing countries like China," Hua said.
After her presentation, Hua commented on the importance of representing international voices of countries where LGBTQ research faces great challenges. Hua is a co-organizer of Shanghai Pride, the longest existing LGBTQ festival in China.
"This is a great opportunity to represent a different kind of race, to represent China," she said. "It's important to let people know the process of research can make a great impact, not just the results of the research. It already has created a large impact among the LGBTQ community."
Rebecca Jones, Ph.D., a researcher and senior lecturer at the Open University in the United Kingdom, spoke about ways to better include bi-plus communities in research, among other panel presentations.
As the preconference workshop concluded, Karen Fredriksen-Goldsen, Ph.D., a lesbian and the workshop chair and professor at the University of Washington, talked about the success of the workshop and the soon-to-come, four-day IAGG conference. Fredriksen-Goldsen is also a principal investigator in the first federally funded, longitudinal national project designed to better understand aging, health, and well-being of LGBT midlife and older adults, which has more than 2,000 participants.
"I see so much promise here. I've heard everyone talking about the importance of building community-based collaboration to ensure we can make a difference with our research," she said. "We still have a lot to learn regardless of how long we've been doing research, but we must be willing and want to continue learning."
Hosted by the Gerontological Society of America and held at the San Francisco Marriott Marquis and Moscone Center, the IAGG World Congress occurs every four years. It brings together a community of aging scholars and professionals from around the world . More than 6,000 professionals in gerontology and geriatrics from medicine, nursing, social science, psychology, and various policy fields are attending.