Culturally Sensitive Senior Care


caregiving, caregiver, elder careAs Carol's mom slid deeper into Alzheimer's disease, she began to use the Italian of her childhood.  How could Carol find senior care where even one person spoke Italian?

Many senior care services are culturally middle of the road.  Individuals who are not part of the majority because of their ethnicity, race or sexual orientation can feel marginalized.  What can you do to meet your family member's specific needs?

If you live in a larger city, you may be able to find culturally specific programs to support your elder.  In San Francisco, we have senior care programs that serve Chinese, Japanese, Spanish and Russian speakers, an assisted living that serves gay seniors and low cost nursing home care that serves the Jewish community. Seek out organizations that serve your family member's demographic and ask for their help finding eldercare programs for your family member.

Work with the management of your parent's assisted living community to create a more inclusive environment.  Celebrating holidays and special occasions that reflect your family member and other residents' origins is a good start.  Fun events create educational opportunities for employees and residents.  Ask if special food items can be added to the menu.

Take the time to educate your parent's caregivers about cultural differences.  For example, in some Asian cultures, it is considered disrespectful to touch the top of an adult's head.  What a difference it can make to your parent's care when you share cultural nuances.

If your family member is a member of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) community, senior care issues can be even more sensitive.  What happens when mainstream eldercare makes your family member feel that they are expected to go back into the closet?

As a family, you may have old business to resolve before providing care to a LGBT relative.  It's unfair to make receiving your help conditional on your family member hiding his/her sexual orientation.

Keep a close eye on the senior care that your family member receives.  Caregiving needs may bring him or her into contact with socially conservative providers who may not comfortable serving an openly gay, bisexual or transgender person. Be an advocate for your family member and address discrimination or rejection based on his sexual orientation as soon as it happens.

Find other senior care resources, if you encounter discrimination and a frank discussion does not solve the problem.

What are your suggestions for making senior care more culturally inclusive?

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--Janice Wallace