In today’s diverse world, there is a chance, as a caregiver, that you may come across an older adult who grew up in a different culture than your own. This can have an impact on how they relate to you and what they expect from a caregiver. That’s why caregiving for people of different cultures means understanding cultural competency.
Understanding Cultural Competency
Simply put, cultural competency is the ability to take knowledge about groups of people and individuals and use that information to create policies, standards, and attitudes that will produce better outcomes for an individual.
This can be accomplished by understanding exactly what the senior adult and their family want and expect from a caregiver. It is really about understanding that each individual will have their own needs and expectations, and how you interact with them needs to be tailored to those needs and expectations.
When caring for a senior who has a different cultural background than your own, it’s important to be aware of common requests among people of their culture, whether there are hot button issues and cultural taboos to avoid, as well as patient population statistics.
It is also important not to assume that just because someone belongs to a specific culture that they follow a specific religion or have a particular viewpoint on current issues. Every person is unique and while they may have a different cultural background than your own, it’s important to not make assumptions, yet remain sensitive to what they may expect.
According to one study by the American Psychological Association, rates of caregiving can vary by ethnicity. In the United States, about one-fifth of African-American and non-Hispanic White population provides care to a loved one. At the same time, 18% of Asian-Americans and 16% of Hispanic Americans are actively caring for a loved one.
The study also noted that ethnic minority caregivers take a more direct role in caring for older loved ones and that their physical health, as a result, takes a greater toll than it does on white caregivers. However, over 116 additional empirical studies noted by the APA have shown that African-American caregivers find a greater reward in caring for loved ones than white caregivers, and experience less instances of stress and depression.
Additionally, Hispanic and Asian-American caregivers experience a greater degree of depression that white caregivers. This is underscored by the fact that Asian-American caregivers reported using professional support services less than other ethnic groups.
Similarly, in the Latino culture, the majority of caregiving is done in the home by loved ones. The older adults are expected to retain their former roles in the family even though they may be dealing with health issues. This also means that this population is less likely to seek outside help when they have dementia or other health issues.
Cross-Cultural Caregiving Issues: Religious Practices
In addition to culture playing a role in being sensitive to the needs of a person you’re caring for, a person’s religious background and tradition is another area of focus where caregivers should educate themselves.
It’s not always politically correct to bring up matters of religion and spirituality, but for caregivers, it’s important for them to know and understand the beliefs and preferences of the person they’re caring for. According to a 2004 study published in the Annals of Family Medicine, 83% of those polled expressed a keen desire to be open about their beliefs with their care teams. And has time has marched on and people are far more open and knowledgeable about different faiths and belief systems, it’s likely that number has increased.
A person’s spirituality can be a big part of how they self-identify and a source of comfort. With that in mind, it’s important for a caregiver to understand how that may tie to the caregiving process and making that person feel comfortable. Some points to consider when caring for others who practice a faith different from their caregiver include:
- According to the religious or spiritual beliefs of some people, they may or may not be comfortable with caregivers of the opposite gender if that caregiver is not a relative.
- Patients who are devout Muslims and pray at specific times during the day may not want to be interrupted or would prefer to schedule activities around their prayer times.
- If a caregiver is looking after a person who is a Jehovah’s Witness, according to their faith, blood transfusions are prohibited, however, blood salvage and auto-transfusions are acceptable. It’s important that, in the event of an emergency, a caregiver understands this.
- Caring for a Jewish patient may require special preparation of foods to adhere to a kosher diet. Additionally, they may also have set prayer times and holy days that prohibit them from engaging in certain activities after sundown.
- For caregivers who are looking after a person who practices a pagan or polytheistic belief system, their traditions may vary, although quite a few do adhere to a vegan or vegetarian diet.
These are just a few considerations to keep in mind when caring for someone whose religious or cultural background is different from your own.
In the end, no matter what you or your loved one’s cultural background is, when it comes to caregiver ethics, it’s important to provide them with the best care possible based on the basic principles of humanity. That includes helping seniors retain as much autonomy as possible and understanding and respecting their culture.
What cultural or religious differences have you encountered in caregiving? If you’re an older adult or have an older loved one in need of care, what are some traditions that are meaningful to you that you would want your caregiver to understand. Let us know in the comments below.