Scott Berlin, PhD, LMSW

Psychological adjustment to aging among gay men over age fifty

I have been a social worker for thirteen years, working with the LGBT community and with persons living with HIV/AIDS. My dissertation research was done on aging issues among older gay men in the context of HIV/AIDS.

In this study I examined psychological adjustment to aging in men who identified themselves as gay, bisexual, or men who have sex with men. The study investigated five dependent variables that may indicate psychological adjustment to aging (loneliness, hope, depression, life satisfaction, and self-esteem) and their relation to the independent variables of social support, internalized homophobia, perceived health, perceived financial status, and perceptions of ageism. Additionally, the study looked at the relationship between the five dependent variables and the demographic variables of race/ethnicity, income, education, work status, relationship status, and living situation. A specific focus was placed on HIV status among participants, and both HIV-positive and HIV-negative individuals participated in the study.

It was considered that there may be differences in the five dependent variables (loneliness, hope, depression, life satisfaction, and self-esteem) between the men who were HIV-positive and those who were HIV-negative. Additionally, it was considered that there may be a relationship between those five variables and internalized homophobia, and social support. Finally, the study assessed whether variables such as perceived health, financial status, and life expectancy also would be related to the five dependent variables.

The results indicated that HIV status, and the demographic variables of race/ethnicity, income, education, work status, relationship status and living situation did not have significant relationship to the dependent variables indicative of psychological adjustment to aging. However, perceptions of health, finances, and ageism were significantly correlated with the dependent variables. Poor perceived health, finances, and social support, as well as high levels of perceived ageism and internalized homophobia, impacted negatively on psychological adjustment to aging.

This study illustrates the importance of perceptions, as opposed to objective measures, of constructs such as health, wealth, and age. Specifically, the results indicated that respondents’ perceptions of their reality generally had a stronger relationship to the variables that measured their psychological adjustment to aging than to objective measures such as HIV status and income. These findings inform services targeting older gay men, in terms of developing interventions that affect individuals’ perceptions of, rather than objective indicators of, aging.