Abstract: Social Isolation Among LGBT Older Adults: Lessons Learned from a Pilot Friendly Caller Program (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

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

Saturday, January 18, 2020
Archives, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Angela Perone, JD, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI
Berit Ingersoll-Dayton, PhD, Professor, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
Keisha Watkins-Dukhie, BA, Practitioner, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
Background: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) older adults face heightened risks of social isolation, given decades of discrimination. Research on telephone buddy programs with non-LGBT participants have proved predominantly unsuccessful at addressing social isolation and have found the greatest success with same-age matches. However, evidence suggests that LGBT adults may actually benefit from telephone buddy programs and in ways uniquely different from other groups. Results from this pilot study provides the first research that specifically examines the unique challenges and opportunities for developing a telephone buddy program for LGBT older adults and its impact on the LGBT older adults and volunteers who participate.

Methods: This research employed a complex convergent mixed methods design with 38 participants to evaluate a 12-month pilot program that matched LGBT older adults to both LGBT and non-LGBT volunteer callers of various ages. This project applied a convergent mixed methods design by simultaneously using qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis through questionnaires and semi-structured interviews with a trained telephone buddy program coordinator over a 12-month period. This design was complex because it included community-based participatory action at all stages of the research (recruitment, data collection, analysis, and writing). Approximately 34% of participants identified as people of color and approximately 26% identified specifically as Black or African American. Approximately 63% identified as female. Nearly 20% identified as transgender or gender nonbinary.

Results:  In contrast to other research, data here revealed strong support for intergenerational matches. LGBT older adults of color especially benefited from program referrals and matches with/from LGBT people of color, regardless of age, and showed some of the strongest improvements in the program. Transgender and gender nonbinary participants reported some of the most significant structural barriers for social connectedness and belonging and continued to struggle throughout the program, regardless of whether they were matched with other transgender or gender nonbinary participants. While the project aimed to capture two groups (LGBT older adults experiencing isolation and volunteer callers), the project revealed a third group: LGBT adults at risk of social isolation, among the “volunteer” callers who also identified concerns and risk factors for social isolation. The program further revealed unexpected benefits to both LGBT and non-LGBT volunteers, including less loneliness and a stronger sense of community.

 Conclusions and Implications:  This pilot project produced important preliminary insights for researchers and practitioners who study and serve LGBT older adults. When considering social isolation, researchers and practitioners should also be mindful of LGBT older adults who are currently connected but at risk for social isolation because of the ways in which LGBT older adults often maintain connections through families of choice of the same age. Transgender people of color expressed the most concerns about structural barriers that the program itself could not address. The data revealed the importance of partnering with other organizations and policymakers to further address structural barriers for social connectedness and belonging among a diverse LGBT aging community.