7. Memory problems
Most types of dementia cause people to experience memory problems. LGBT people may be affected by these in different ways. For example, if an LGBT person 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, for example.
For some older LGBT people, they may have gone through the process of sharing their sexual orientation or gender identity – ‘coming out’ – more
recently. They may forget that they have come out, which might be distressing for the person, and for those supporting them.
They may also be unable to remember whether other people know about their partner or friends’ sexual orientation or gender identity, and may therefore reveal it without meaning to (known as ‘outing’). This can be distressing for those supporting the person and can put them in an uncomfortable situation. Some people may avoid going to events with groups of people to stop this from happening.
Trans people who have changed gender (or are in the process of doing so) may not remember that they have been through this process, and so may think they haven’t. A trans person might forget that they have – or have not – started the process of changing gender (gender reassignment). If they have a partner or friend who is changing gender, they may also forget this.
A trans person may also be taking hormones or undergoing long-term hormone therapy. If the person forgets to take the hormones or suddenly stops, they may develop health problems (for example, an increase in their risk of developing osteoporosis). 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.
As dementia progresses, the person is more likely to remember older memories than more recent ones. The person may behave as though they are living in an earlier time in their life. This may include positive experiences that helped shape their identity, such as protest marches and campaigning for equal rights. Some LGBT people may believe that they are living in a time when they had to hide who they were for fear of negative consequences, or when they experienced negative attitudes or distressing life events such as arguments with their biological family members.
This can be very difficult for the person and can have a big impact on how they feel. It is important for those supporting the person to be aware of their life history (if the person is comfortable with this), so they can support them appropriately and help them to manage their emotions and memories, including any that are negative. 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. For more information about these and other treatments see factsheet 526, Coping with memory loss.
Tips for supporting an LGBT person with memory problems
- For life story and reminiscence work, find out about the person’s past experiences and positive memories, especially those other people may not know about.
- Use past experiences and events to engage the person in conversation and as a means of finding out more about their personal experience of being LGB or T. For example, news stories, pin badges, photos, videos or memorabilia from marches can all help stimulate conversation.
- Some people may have had negative experiences and going through their life history could cause them to relive these. If the person becomes upset or distressed, support them to manage these feelings.
- Make sure that those supporting the person are aware of any life events that may cause them distress or upset.