Memory problems LGBTQ+ people with dementia may experience

Advice and practical tips for supporting an LGBTQ+ person with dementia who is experiencing memory problems. 

How LGBT+ people with dementia may experience memory problems

Most types of dementia cause people to experience memory problems. In addition to the day-to-day difficulties that this causes, LGBTQ+ people may be affected in other ways.

For example, if a person with dementia has told some people about their sexual orientation or gender identity but not others, the person may forget who they’ve shared this with. They may think they have told some people when they haven’t.

Some people may forget that they have gone through the process of sharing their sexual orientation or gender identity – ‘coming out’.

This can cause them distress, as they may feel the need to hide this information, for example from their carers. It can also be distressing for those supporting them.

They may also forget that other people don’t know about their partner or friends’ sexual orientation or gender identity, and may reveal it without meaning to (known as ‘outing’). This can be upsetting and can put the person with dementia and those around them in an uncomfortable situation. Some people may avoid going to events with groups of people to stop this from happening.

Memory problems trans people with dementia may experience

Trans people who have transitioned (or are in the process of doing so) may not remember that they have started or been through this process. If they have a partner or friend who is transitioning, they may also forget this.

A person who is trans may also be undergoing hormone therapy. If the person forgets to take the hormones or suddenly stops, they may develop health problems. It’s important for those supporting the person to be aware of the treatment the person is having, and to support them to take the right medications.

Time-shifting for LGBTQ+ people with dementia

As dementia progresses, the person is more likely to remember older memories than more recent ones. The person’s experience may be that they are living in an earlier time in their life (this is known as ‘time-shifting').

This may include positive experiences that helped shape their identity, such as feeling a sense of acceptance or belonging after coming out.

However, time-shifting may mean that some LGBTQ+ people believe that they are living in a time when they had to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity for fear of negative consequences.

They may relive experiences of negative attitudes or distressing life events such as arguments with members of their family of origin. This can be very difficult for the person and have a big impact on how they feel and interact with other people. However, there are ways that you can support them.

Advice for talking about an LGBTQ+ person's past

Be aware of the person’s life history (if the person is comfortable with this), especially things that other people may not know about. Consider using footage and materials from past events to talk to them about their personal experience of being LGBTQ+.

For example, pin badges, photos, videos, or memorabilia from marches can all help stimulate conversation. Bear in mind that the person may have had negative experiences and looking at these items could cause them to relive these.

If they become upset or distressed, check whether they want to keep looking at these items or talking about their experiences. Be guided by them about what they prefer.

Make sure that those supporting the person are aware of any life events that may cause them distress or upset. This is especially important if any professionals support the person with life story or reminiscence work, as this involves encouraging the person with dementia to think and talk about their past.

It’s important to think about whether the person would feel safe and comfortable doing this. If so, check that any reminiscence groups they attend are inclusive and LGBTQ+ aware.

Coping with memory problems

Read some common approaches to coping with memory problems that you may find helpful. 

Read our information
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