Memory problems and reminiscence as an LGBTQ+ person with dementia

Memory problems are common in dementia. If you identify as LGBTQ+, they may cause particular difficulties.

Memory problems you may experience as an LGBTQ+ person with dementia

Issues related to your identity are sensitive and you may find difficulties caused by dementia distressing. For example, you may have trouble remembering whether you have ‘come out’ (told people about your sexual orientation or gender identity).

You may feel worried about problems developing in the later stages of your condition, for example needing help with personal care. This might be something you don’t want to think about now. Take things at a pace you feel comfortable with.

Talk to people who can help if you are worried about anything. This could be a partner, friends or a professional such as a counsellor. There are also things you can do to make sure that any future decisions are based on your wishes.

Examples of memory problems, and ways to manage them

If you are LGBTQ+, you may have to make decisions day-to-day about whether to disclose (tell people about) your sexual orientation or gender identity – whether to be ‘out’.

As your dementia progresses, you may lose your ability to make this decision. Some things can make it difficult for you not to disclose aspects of your identity, such as your appearance and medical history.

You may also be unable to stop yourself from disclosing your sexual orientation or gender identity by mistake. For example, you may refer to your partner without meaning to tell someone their gender. This could mean that you are ‘out’ without choosing to be.

You should talk to those close to you about this, and what you would want to happen if this occurred. For example, talk about whether you would be happy to be ‘out’ to staff and other residents in a care home.

If you are trans, you may have complex physical needs as a result of medical procedures or treatments, such as long-term hormone therapy. Dementia can make it harder to manage these.

For example, you may experience memory loss or problems with planning that can make it harder to remember to take medicines and tablets. It can help to find practical strategies, such as automated reminders to cope with these.

As your dementia progresses, older memories are likely to stay with you longer than newer memories. This means you might remember your childhood better than the past few years. Eventually, you may feel like you are back in an earlier time in your life. This can sometimes cause very distressing symptoms for LGBTQ+ people:

If you identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, you might go back to a time before you came out.

If you are trans, you may go back to a time before you transitioned. As well as being distressing, this can make practical day-to-day things such as going to the toilet confusing and difficult. You might find that your ability to remember that you have transitioned comes and goes.

Symptoms may vary depending on how recently you transitioned or started the process, as well as how your dementia affects you. In some cases, you might need to access services for both genders.

To make sure that your gender identity continues to be recognised and respected as your dementia progresses, it’s important to plan ahead.

If you have experienced prejudice, discrimination, or harassment earlier in your life, these memories can return and make you feel unsafe.

Reminiscence for an LGBTQ+ person with dementia

Some therapies aim to help a person’s memory through talking about events from their past. These are known as ‘reminiscence’ therapies and are often done in a group.

This activity can help you to see your life as a whole and recognise your experiences and achievements. Talking about who you are can help you to focus on your skills and interests, not your dementia. It can help to remind you and others that you have an interesting life.

Thinking and talking about your past can be more difficult if you have experienced prejudice, discrimination and rejection. You may want to think carefully about whether this is something you want to do.

It’s important to think about whether you are comfortable talking about these things in a group situation. Read our information on finding services that are right for you.

If you decide reminiscing would be helpful, you may also want to start keeping a memory or life history book. This can include information or keepsakes from your past, your experiences and the memories that are important to you. It can help others to know more about what is important to you.

Managing memory loss

For practical advice see Memory aids, tools and strategies.

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