Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ethnogeriatrics on the rise

We hear a lot about the immigration debate, but seldom do we hear about the elders in our nation’s ethnic communities. Students in my Aging In Place course recently read articles about the future of aging, including one focused on ways in which culturally diverse communities are developing long-term care facilities, and other long-term care facilities in communities with very large ethnic populations (e.g., East Indian, Slavic, Hispanic) are assigning floors in some facilities to specific cultural groups. 

The readings elicited a great deal of discussion among students, with some feeling these culturally specific settings were exclusionary and did not foster inter-cultural communication and community. Other students felt, after some reflection, it made sense to want to be near others who share your cultural views, dress, foods, spiritual and cultural practices, holidays, etc. Even how care is provided during old age and at death is culturally specific.


Rosenfeld and Popko (2010) state, while aging in place in the past has been largely confined to homogenous neighborhoods where neighbors were of similar income, status, and lifestyles, “by 2025…the quest for community could also involve the search for culturally sensitive communities. By this we mean places where residents share a common culture, language, and belief system.” These authors note this change, along with increasing diversity among elders, will lead to the continued growth of “ethnogeriatrics.”

Rosenfeld and Popko mention the desire of Vietnamese elders to live near Vietnamese groceries and churches; India Home in New York is providing culturally sensitive day care services, with activities from Bollywood movies to Indian vegetarian meals. Muslims in Toledo, Ohio are raising funds to build a nursing home and Chinese Americans are served at Aegis Gardens in Fremont, CA. Around the world, in Japan, India, and other countries where family care of the old was the norm, we are seeing a rise in acceptance of specialized housing and community planning for elders.

So, what do you think? As the population of diverse elders grows with the larger aging demographic, is ethnogeriatrics the answer? How can we prepare ourselves and our communities to address the culturally diverse needs of older adults? It would be great to hear your ideas.  


Sharon Baggett, PhD
Associate Professor

Dr. Baggett teaches gerontology courses in CAC's undergraduate and graduate Aging Studies programs and is extensively involved in program evaluation and issues related to planning for livable communities for people of all ages.


Christina Rajanayakam said...

I work in an adult day center where we provide activities for people from different cultures. It started with the center hiring employees from around the world - England, Scotland, Australia, India, and Nepal. We have board members and volunteers who come from different ethnic backgrounds as well. The participants of the program don't have problems relating to any activity and enjoy the different accents and cultures. I am from India and the term 'ethnogeriatrics' caught my attention. I would like to know more about it! - Christina Rajanayakam, Columbus, Indiana

Sylvia said...

I've just agreed to do a series of "retirement" workshops with an ethnoculturally diverse community. These are women from many different cultural backgrounds who speak a range of languages. I am very excited about my first meeting with them, in which I'll focus on learning from them about how they view this part of their lives. We are so quick to forget that aging is not the same in different cultures and I was excited to read about your ethnogeriatrics approach. If there's any reading you'd recommend I'd be grateful. What an interesting time we're living in!

University of Indianapolis Center for Aging & Community said...


Good to hear from you. You have a unique opportunity, indeed, to explore the concept of retirement and the latter phases of life with a group of diverse women. The article I referred to in the blog post, and which garnered the most debate and interest from my students, is:

Rosenfeld, J.P. & Popko, J. (2010) Home, community and gerontocracy: Forecasting the future of senior housing. Generations, 34(3), 61-69.

Generations is a publication of the American Society on Aging. They have done more on diversity issues than most other professional gerontology associations. You might also explore their website.

In health care, Stanford University has been a leader and has an on-site Ethnogeriatrics curriculum that you can access for free; all you need to do is complete a brief survey. I've used some portions of it in teaching a Cultural Variations in Aging course and found it very useful.

One of the things I would be interested in from your work would be whether the women have family nearby, are recent or longer-term immigrants (if immigrants at all), and how retirement here (if in U.S.) is different from what they might have expected in the country/culture from which they came. Best of luck with your work!

Sharon Baggett, PhD