What Does Culturally Sensitive Care for Elders Look Like?

Quality of care for the senior population is more critical than ever as a considerable segment of the population enters retirement.

As the senior population expands rapidly, it’s more important for care providers to understand how to provide adequate service for the group. Even before the baby boomer generation entered retirement, there’ve been many reported problems regarding the safety and quality of senior healthcare.

How then can care providers ensure that staff members understand how to work with a massive influx of seniors who come from varying backgrounds, especially considering the quality of care problems that already exist across America’s healthcare system?

The answer is that institutional decision-makers must ensure that internal stakeholders learn authentic cultural sensitivity to ensure that poor quality of care doesn’t lead to adverse emotional and physical outcomes for senior citizens.

Please Handle With Care

As people age, they must manage a range of health issues. For example, physicians diagnose 20% of the senior population with at least one form of mental illness.

Furthermore, the increased diversity of United States citizens creates both opportunities and challenges for senior care providers. Resultantly, institutional leaders must train increasingly diverse staff members in how to engage with equally diverse consumers properly.

Cultural competence empowers healthcare professionals with the ability to interact with people from a variety of different backgrounds and cultures. It also empowers them with the ability to understand and communicate with people of varying beliefs and ethnicities.

It not only addresses differences in background, but also in age. Cultural competence enhances the ability of medical workers to deliver services that effectively meet the social, cultural and language needs of all patients.

Organizational culture competence can help to improve outcomes for senior patients. It can also help to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in quality of service. With training, institutional executives can enhance transparency between staff members’ beliefs, language, values and varying cultures.

An Overview of Culturally Sensitive Care

Some researchers promote cultural sensitivity to improve the emotional and physical health outcomes of senior patients. Other researchers cite that lack of cultural sensitivity directly correlates with health disparities among minority groups.

Cultural competence emphasizes flexible, patient-centered care provider attitudes and behavior. It encompasses deploying institutional policies and displaying characteristics that senior patients identify as signs of respect for their culture.

According to Dr. Julie Smirl, assistant professor in Bradley University’s online masters of counseling program, “culturally sensitive care can entail slowing down and taking the time to get to know your client/patient across these constructs: bio-psycho-social-spiritual-cultural factors that are uniquely important to that individual, couple, or family system within their cultural context.”

“Everyone is busy and moving quickly in our world today, however many of our elderly clientele are beginning to slow down and want their care providers to take the time to know who they are, what is important to them, and what gives them meaning,” says Dr. Smirl.

An important aspect of supporting cultural sensitivity involves empowering patients to express their opinions. Resultantly, staff members must learn to acknowledge the views of patients and engage in attitudes and behavior that are relevant to those individuals. A patient-provider partnership enables senior patients to experience the very best in patient-centered, culturally sensitive care.

It enables patients to feel comfortable in the caregiving setting and learn to trust the staff members that interact with them every day. Most importantly, it hinges on the idea that patient-centered care builds a bridge toward delivering the best quality of service possible.

According to Dr. Smirl, “when faced with the fear that many chronic health disorders have associated by diagnosis, it is important to share with a client what the process/prognosis means and what options they have to decide on their individualized care.  It is critical for health care providers to respect the decisions they make about how they wish to move forward with their care based on their values and cultural beliefs.  Be inclusive in care provision, making each client/patient and potentially their loved ones, an active part of the decision-making process.”

Subpar Senior Care Is All Too Prevalent

An estimated 5 million seniors experience abuse every year, according to the National Council on Aging (NCOA). Resultantly, institutional leaders now recognize the vital role that cultural sensitivity plays in the understanding of the varying cultural, ethnic and language needs of diverse senior patients.

Nevertheless, disparities in quality of care remain prevalent across the nation’s medical facilities. Too often, minority groups experience less access to quality health services.

For example, physicians are more likely to diagnose minority patients with late-stage breast cancer and colorectal cancer compared to Caucasian consumers. Furthermore, low-income and African-American patients are more likely to enter a care facility for conditions that they could have avoided given access to quality health services.

In addition, many facilities still deploy a one-size-fits-all treatment method. This method, however, requires patients to adapt to the language and systems of care providers. Conversely, patient-centered interventions revolve around the needs of consumers.

There are many issues that often go overlooked when caring for elderly patients such as long-term intimate partner violence and substance abuse disorders.

“Screening for both of these issues is vital as many people have bruising or increased falls not only related to health issues, but from other factors they are facing in their lives.  Providing individualized care plans is critical to helping the older adult population.  The way to accomplish this is through being intentionally present, respectful, and listening actively to a client/patient.  What they are saying from their perspective / worldview is very meaningful to them and can have a critical impact on their health and wellness,” says Dr. Smirl.

In a culturally sensitive, patient-oriented care environment, medical professionals provide consumers with information that enables them to participate in wellness planning. Furthermore, care providers give patients the tools and support to ensure that they can adjust their behavior to promote improved long-term health outcomes.

When institutional leaders fail to promote culturally sensitive care, patients face a higher risk of experiencing poor treatment outcomes and diminished long-term wellness.

Culturally competent care increases the effectiveness and quality of services, patient satisfaction and compliance with treatment plans. Furthermore, it helps to mitigate racial and ethnic health disparities. It enables medical professionals to respond to the unique needs of varying members of the increasingly expanding senior population. Resultantly, decision-makers must commit to promoting an environment of cultural sensitivity to promote the well-being of the nation’s aging adults.

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