The Medical Benefits of Caring for Your Emotions

Many people develop Type II Diabetes when they enter the second half of life. My mother was unfortunately one of those who was diagnosed with this disease when she was in her 58th year. She battled this illness for many years. One thing I noticed, however, was that whenever she was under some form of emotional stress or experiencing excessive worry, her blood sugars rose and her physical health diminished. She later developed heart disease, which eventually took her life, not an uncommon outcome for people who suffer from diabetes.

I have since learned that my mother could have been greatly helped if, in addition to the medical care she received, she had also been given counselling to help her cope with the anxiety and fear she was facing. In research that has emerged from a study conducted by Stanford University School of Medicine with more than a thousand men and women who had suffered a first heart attack, those women who went on to suffer a second heart attack were marked by high levels of fearfulness and anxiety. Subsequent studies have shown that women (and men too) who were offered personal counselling or taught relaxation techniques were not only able to handle their turbulent feelings better, but they also experienced some reprieve from their illness, in many cases lengthening their life and enhancing the quality of their life.

Daniel Goleman, whose work on Emotional Intelligence is well known, suggests that a good preventive strategy in dealing with the physical challenges that people face in the second half of life would be to teach them emotion management. He says that, since emotional well-being is one factor that determines whether an older person declines rapidly or thrives,  those entering into retirement, or already in retirement, could benefit greatly from regular sessions with a personal counsellor or therapist. Certainly, the scientific evidence shows that, just as we need to care for our physical health, so also we need to care for our mental and emotional health, and that both physical and emotional health go hand in hand. Our emotions can and do affect our ability to recover from surgery or cope with chronic illness.

Reflections on PRIDE Month: Gay and Aging

As we begin the second week of Pride Month, it behooves us to pause and consider what life is like for most older adult members of the LGBTQ+ community. Studies show that many seniors suffer from loneliness and isolation as they age; but these factors are heightened for LGBTQ+ seniors.

For example, close to 50% of LGBTQ+ seniors do not live in conjugal relationships and many have no children or certainly fewer children than most heterosexual seniors.

According to the Government of Canada[1], other significant factors put LGBTQ+ seniors at greater risk than their heterosexual siblings. While all seniors can and do suffer from loneliness, loss of social network or interactions, or fear the loss of autonomy due to illness or disabilities, there are additional factors that contribute to the sense of isolation many older adults who are LGBTQ+. Here are just a few that the government identifies:

  • Having to conceal sexual orientation or gender identity
  • Fear of discrimination
  • Past or current discrimination
  • Stigmatization associated with discrimination based on age, sex and ethnocultural community
  • Fear of going into a private seniors’ residence or long-term care facility
  • Lack of support or feeling unwelcome at programs for seniors
  • Lack of opportunities to contribute to the community and perform volunteer work
  • Housing discrimination
  • Heterosexist or homophobic culture within society and within organizations that provide care and services
  • Being HIV positive or having developed HIV/AIDS
  • Difficulty that others have in accepting gender reassignment or transition
  • Interpersonal difficulties and rejection by family, social network or broader community

Clearly community centres for seniors, senior residential communities and residences need to do a better job of making it known that LGBTQ+ seniors are welcome. Staff need to be trained to understand and promote healthy, inclusive attitudes and should be held accountable if they do not. Films that include members of the LGBTQ+ community need to be shown and discussion circles developed to help break down the barriers of prejudice and discrimination. Opportunities for LGBTQ+ individuals to tell their stories – if they wish – should also be made available.

There is much more that we can do to build trust and affirmation between and among all seniors, and indeed among all generations. There is a very great deal still to be done to create a healthy aging environment for LGBTQ+ seniors. Please share your ideas and experiences. I would love hear from you!

Happy PRIDE Month!