Gloria Gutman, Ph.D., developed the Gerontology Research Centre and Department of Gerontology at Simon Fraser University (SFU) and was director of both from 1982-2005. She is currently a Research Associate and Professor Emerita at SFU. Dr. Gutman is author/editor of 23 books, the most recent (with Andrew Sixsmith), Technologies for Active Aging (Springer, 2013). During her career, Dr. Gutman has held a number of high profile roles including two terms as President of the Canadian Association on Gerontology, President of the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics, and President of the International Network for Prevention of Elder Abuse. Currently, she is President of the North American chapter of the International Society for Gerontechnology, Vice-President of the International Longevity Centre-Canada, and a member of the Research Management Committee of the Canadian Frailty Network (CFN-NCE). Previously she served on the World Economic Forum’s Council on the Ageing Society, World Health Organization’s Expert Advisory Panel on Ageing and Health, and CIHR-Institute of Aging Advisory Board. In 2007 she was awarded the Order of British Columbia and in 2010 an LLD (honoris causa) by the University of Western Ontario for her work “as an international authority in the field of gerontology” and was named one of Canada’s “best 45 over 45” by Zoomer magazine. In 2012 she was awarded a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal by the Government of Canada, and in 2016 the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian honour.
“We’ve been here before:” Impact of HIV/AIDS experience on COVID-19 pandemic coping among LGB older Canadians
Dr. Gloria Gutman, Professor Emerita, Simon Fraser U Gerontology Research Centre, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
COVID-19 has been described as the first pandemic in a century. In fact, there have been others since the Spanish Flu of 1920, including Tuberculosis, in late 19th century, Polio in the 1950s, SARS in 2002, H1N1 in 2009-2010 and HIV/AIDS, first identified in the early 1980’s. Worldwide, 38 million people are living with HIV/AIDS (HIV.gov); in North America, lesbian and especially gay and bisexual men, have been, and continue to be, disproportionately affected (Emlet et al., 2019). Furthermore, HIV/AIDS has been a pivotal dimension in the LGBT rights movement through community confrontation of the stigma and discrimination encountered by persons living with HIV/AIDS and the failure of governments to address the health crisis as it unfolded. We propose these experiences impact ways in which lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) persons experience the COVID-19 pandemic: they may experience greater distress and coping difficulties with COVID-19 than heterosexual age-peers; alternatively, they may be better prepared and report more prosocial behaviors.
We explored these possibilities through an online survey of 4380 Canadians aged 55+ conducted August 10-October 10, 2020 recruited through seniors’ organizations and Facebook advertising. The analytic sample comprises 1143 persons (mean age = 67) who responded positively to the question if they, or someone close to them, “had been affected by one or more” of the pandemics listed above. Items with 5-point scales (strongly disagree to strongly agree), addressing whether COVID-19 led them to “think more about their prior epidemic/pandemic experiences”, feel they “couldn’t handle it again”, feel“ they have been here before”; “prepared for what is happening”; and “ like they needed to act or do something” the latter three forming a scale named “agentic familiarity” (range: 3-15; M = 7.9). The sample includes 88 gay and bisexual men, 65 lesbian and bisexual women, 818 heterosexual women and 172 heterosexual men.
68.9% of LGB respondents reported having been affected by HIV/AIDS, double the highest percentage of heterosexual persons with previous pandemic experience (H1N1, 36.6%). Chi-square analyses indicated gay and bisexual men (62.5%) thought about their previous pandemic experiences significantly more than the other groups; only 5% of respondents reporting feeling like “they can’t handle it again” with no group differences. Multiple linear regressions were conducted on the agentic familiarity measure with age, education, living alone, race, previous pandemic experience, gender and sexual orientation, as well as their interaction, as predictors. Significant associations were found for the gender and sexual orientation interaction and for previous experience with HIV vs other pandemics: gay and bisexual men (M = 9.6) and those with previous HIV/AIDS pandemic experiences (M = 8.9) had higher scores on this measure.
Discussion and implications for policy, practice
Previous experiences with HIV/AIDS, particularly for older gay and bisexual men who think more about it, are associated with a greater sense of preparedness, understanding and need to act (i.e., agentic familiarity). These outcomes point to strengths-based experiences and suggest that consideration of previous pandemic experience is warranted when developing COVID-19 supports and preparing for post-pandemic recovery.