My partner was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about three years ago. We’ve been going it alone, but now we need some additional help. How can I tell if a service or organization is open to working with LGBT families?

Kudos to you for managing to “go it alone” for three years. But, as you have learned, going it alone can get you only so far. For anyone facing an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, it is much better to enlist some help as soon as a situation presents itself. It is also important to act immediately on a diagnosis of dementia. Now that you are ready for help, there are many agencies, public and private, that are available to you. In cities with sizeable gay and lesbian communities, some public and private agencies will have experience with caregiving issues and LGBT families, particularly in the three decades since the start of the AIDS epidemic. In less densely populated areas, where programs may have less opportunity to work with LGBT individuals and families, determining whether an agency will be supportive may be more difficult.

Many agencies have official policies stating that they do not discriminate on the basis of gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation. Sometimes this information is stated in their brochure on the Internet or in other promotional materials. Look for a rainbow logo for a visible cue. Others may acknowledge LGBT sensitivity and acceptance through the use of such terms as “domestic partner,” “life-partner,” or “significant other”—in addition to “spouse.” Agencies may also state they define a family in the broadest sense, including other non-married partnerships, friends and neighbors, or any persons who choose to live together to provide mutual help and support. Either as a caregiver or care receiver, one’s decision to disclose being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender when seeking assistance will depend on the particular set of circumstances in your life, such as geographic location, family dynamics and relationships, medical necessities, the agencies in question, and other factors.

Before you even check out agencies, you might want to explore closer to home. One of the best approaches to finding help is to check with friends and acquaintances who have been in similar circumstances. Ask them for referrals to agencies and organizations that have been most accepting of their needs and concerns. Even if an agency has an official nondiscrimination policy, those who’ve been through this before may have useful recommendations for which staff or departments within an organization are likely to be the most open and responsive. The office of the doctor who made the diagnosis might have some literature on tables; if you are comfortable with the doctor, asking outright about resources is in order.

Local and national LGBT organizations can be another vital resource in locating community agencies that are sensitive and supportive. Many areas have a gay switchboard or hotline that provides information anonymously over the phone. Larger cities frequently have LGBT-specific medical clinics or other centers devoted to gay and lesbian health issues. In recent years, older gays and lesbians have formed their own organizations offering recreational activities and other opportunities to socialize, as well as support groups.

For referrals to LGBT-sensitive homecare providers or social work services, you can also try contacting community agencies that provide AIDS support and services. Finally, the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, which is based in San Francisco, can provide referrals to LGBT-sensitive medical professionals in many areas of the country. See the list of LGBT-friendly Resources at the end of this fact sheet.