Conventional wisdom says women are more likely to ask for help than men. Can similar distinctions be made according to race and culture—particularly in the Hispanic community?
We connected with Dr. Yanira Cruz, president and CEO of the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA), to learn how cultural differences affect the way families ask for help and make senior care decisions.
The Importance of Family
“In the Hispanic culture, the family unit is basic to all societal interactions,” says Dr. Cruz. She explains that intergenerational households, which provide support for every family member, are a common feature in the Hispanic community. “Grandparents often cook meals, watch children, and impart wisdom while parents are busy working and managing the household.”
And when family matriarchs and patriarchs need age-related assistance, they benefit from a built-in support system.
“Informal family caregivers in the Latino community are the cultural norm,” says Dr. Cruz. “They provide loving care and allow older adults to age within the company of their families.”
The Need for Support
Though family members gain satisfaction from providing care to their loved ones, the role is challenging nonetheless. Caregivers typically juggle the demands of work, caring for aging parents, and caring for their children. With so much on their plate, they need all the support they can get.
“Such support could include information on health conditions, assistance in accessing benefits for which they or their loved ones are eligible, assistance from formal caregivers, or even local support groups,” says Dr. Cruz. “Latino seniors and families often do not have sufficient information on illnesses or other challenges faced by the senior, and they do not know how to access information or help if it is needed.”
For example, Dr. Cruz cites a National Council of La Raza study that revealed Latino seniors and caregivers had very little information on Alzheimer’s disease and its progression. Because of that, caregivers did not know how to help their loved ones cope or get treatment—all of which contributed to high levels of caregiver stress.
That’s why Dr. Cruz believes there’s a great need for culturally and linguistically appropriate outreach and education on these types of issues.
Fortunately, help is available. NHCOA’s Hispanic Aging Network, a group of Latino and senior-serving community-based organizations and non-profits, is a trusted source of information, support, and services for Latino seniors and their families. The Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline, which serves people with memory loss, caregivers, health care professionals, and the public, offers assistance in more than 200 languages and dialects.
Beyond Family Caregiving
Though family caregiving is the norm in the Hispanic community, sometimes it’s simply not a viable option.
“Every caregiving case is as individual as the caregiver and the person receiving care,” says Dr. Cruz. “Some caregivers may simply need to know how to ask for additional help from their family and community networks, others may need a support system and information, and still others may benefit greatly from home care and senior living.”
If family caregiving is no longer feasible for the senior or the caregiver, it’s time to take the next step. While there is a cultural expectation that families take care of seniors in the Hispanic community, Dr. Cruz says families need to know it’s OK to seek outside help if the situation becomes unmanageable.
And when you do, don’t think for a second you’ve failed your loved ones. They may need a higher level of care than you can provide, but you can still support them in home care or a senior living community. After all, your love for your family doesn’t end in senior living.
“The Hispanic dedication to family is reflected in their commitment to caring for seniors as families,” says Dr. Cruz. “This is a cultural strength of the Hispanic community.”
CHIME IN: How does your unique culture influence your family’s senior care decisions?