Aging may be a universal experience, but culture and ethnicity affect how aging relatives fit into the family picture. Latino families, says Carolyn Mendez-Luck, tend to care for their elderly family members at home and delay institutionalization, relative to other racial and cultural groups.
The assistant professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University looks at family caregiving of Latino elders and at age-related health disparities among older Latinos.
“Elders traditionally are afforded an esteemed status in the family,” she says. “When combined with strong cultural values around the family, elders are often seen as deserving recipients of care and are a focus of much attention in the family.
“In my research, I have found that caregivers describe the home as a place of warmth and love that cannot be replicated in a formal institution. Many of the caregivers I interviewed viewed nursing homes as places of last resort and wouldn’t send their family members there because it would be like abandoning them.”
Compared to other cultural groups, Latino families are no more likely to care for their elders, but Latinos are more likely to be high intensity caregivers (in terms of the range and scope of responsibilities) compared to non-Latino whites.
A relatively high rate of chronic illnesses among Latinos may help to explain such practices. For example, Latino adults are diagnosed with chronic conditions such as diabetes at younger ages compared to non-Latino white adults.
“Thus because Latino elders are sicker from having more chronic conditions and severity of those conditions, they require more help,” she adds.
Latino families are often described as extending far beyond the nuclear family to include aunts, uncles and family friends. However, Mendez-Luck’s research indicates when it comes to caregiving, one family member often assumes much of the responsibility.