Unique Struggles of Being Gay with Alzheimer’s
In 2005, Gordon Broom knew something was wrong. He had a difficult time remembering things. He would leave the house, but often times had to return because he'd forgotten something. Within a year, that forgetfulness started to impact his job. He mentioned the problem to his doctor and was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment.
Within two years, those issues progressed and Broom was sent to a neurologist who diagnosed him with Early Onset Alzheimer's disease. (Now known as Younger Onset Alzheimer's). He was only 55 years old.
"I was upset for about 20 minutes," he said. "Then I decided not to get depressed. My parents both had dementia in their later years. So I chose to take each day as it comes and enjoy my life. Not everyone's path is the same. Some people deteriorate quickly and some can go for a long time before things get bad."
Since then, he's participated in two clinical trials - including one that uses nicotine to slow the progress of the disease. And Broom says it appears to work. He's being treated at Brain Matters Research in Delray Beach. It's one of the nation's largest, private research organizations specializing in Alzheimer's disease.
Broom is not in this struggle alone. He and his partner Larry Jordan have been together for 27 years. Jordan says Alzheimer's has changed their outlook on life. "You don't know what will happen in the future. Our planning for the future came in to focus. We don't know what's going to happen. We just said we'll deal with this and that's what we're doing."
An estimated 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, including about 150,000 individuals living in South Florida. But dealing with Alzheimer's can present unique problems for the LGBT community. One such issue is seeing patients go back into the closet if/when they're placed in facilities because they're not comfortable being openly gay.
But there are other concerns as well. According to the National Center for Lesbian Rights, LGBT elders are more likely to live in poverty than their straight counterparts. Older LGBT people are more likely to be estranged from their biological families. Often, an LGBT individual's family of choice may face obstacles to gaining the power to make end of life and other legal decisions. When asked whether they could be open with facility staff about their sexual orientation or gender identity, only 22 percent said yes.
Jordan, who is Black, says there's a double stigma of sorts for gays dealing with Alzheimer's.
Both Broom and Jordan are now retired. They stopped working a little sooner than planned. But these days, they spend the majority of their time lobbying for Alzheimer's awareness and advocacy. Both men say the disease has not put a strain on their relationship. Instead, it's caused them to work harder on issues like communication.
Broom says these days he's doing pretty well. "I still have trouble remembering things, but nothing like I did several years ago." For example, he may ask the same question over again. But he misplaces things less often.
The Alzheimer's Association Walk to End Alzheimer's is the nation's largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer's care, support and research. The event calls on participants of all ages and abilities to reclaim the future for millions. There are three upcoming events in the South Florida area.
Saturday, Oct. 12 - Walk 9:15 a.m.
Marlins Park (New location)
501 Marlins Way
Miami, FL 33125
Registration 7:30 a.m. - Opening Ceremony 8:30am
Saturday, Oct. 26 - Walk 9:15am
Hollywood North Beach Park
3601 North Ocean Drive
Hollywood, FL 33019
Registration 7:30am * Opening Ceremony 8:30 a.m.
West Palm Beach
Saturday, Nov. 2 - Walk 9:15am
104 Datura Street
West Palm Beach, FL 33401
Registration 7:30 a.m. - Opening Ceremony 8:30 a.m.