Age through Ethnic Lenses: Caring for the Elderly in a Multicultural Society

By Radina, M. Elise | Family Relations, July 2003 | Go to article overview

Age through Ethnic Lenses: Caring for the Elderly in a Multicultural Society


Radina, M. Elise, Family Relations


Olson, L. K. (Ed.). (2001). Age Through Ethnic Lenses: Caring for the Elderly in a Multicultural Society. Lanham, MD: Rowan & Littlefield. ISBN 0-7425-0114-0. Price $32.95 (paperback).

Olson's Age Through Ethnic Lenses: Caring for the Elderly in a Multicultural Society is a compilation of various approaches to caregiving for minority older adults. Olson outlines six purposes for this book: (a) to identify the challenges and needs unique to various groups related to caregiving of older adult, (b) to discuss the diversity of values that influence care options of minority older adults and their informal caregivers, (c) to explore the contexts in which decisions are made about the care of older adults, (d) to identify commonalities across groups regarding the care of older adults, (e) to identify issues concerning multiculturalism and formal service workers, and (f) to offer suggestions for policy makers and social programs that address these issues regarding the care of minority older adults. The various contributors fulfill most of these purposes and appropriately cover the experiences of the groups included by Olson.

The book includes eight sections: Asian Americans, Latino Americans, African Americans, Native Americans, socioreligious groups, European Americans, sexual orientation and gender, and rural elderly. Most of these sections include at least two chapters, each of these addressing a differing perspective on the group discussed in the section. This approach to looking at the various subgroups is appropriate as it reflects within group diversity. Unfortunately, not all minority groups (e.g., Cuban, Asian Indian, Somalian) currently impacting the U.S. culture are included. Although the absence of representations of these groups is noted in the foreword (written by Donald Gelfand), Olson does not make explicit mention of such groups or suggest how the nature of the book may be different with their exclusion.

The first section addresses the experiences of Asian Americans, including Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese elders. The choice of these subgroups is appropriate considering both the long political and social history of the United States with their countries of origin. Of particular interest is the inclusion of Vietnamese American elders who are often not as frequently mentioned as Chinese, Japanese, or even Korean Americans. This chapter (Tran, Ngo, & Sung), in particular, offers a unique approach to the discussion of social and cultural roots of attitudes toward care among these elderly people and their families. Specifically, the authors discuss how age-related social structures originating in Vietnam have adapted and changed among those families now living in the United States. The authors also provide a number of interesting and appropriate examples of their points using quotes from elders and case studies. This approach helps to give voice to the individuals and situations discussed.

The second section covers the experiences of Latino Americans, with specific discussions of Mexican American and Puerto Ricans. Both of these chapters are well written and offer appropriate discussion of social and institutional barriers to formal support services as well as an overview of factors influencing the use of informal support from family and friends. One aspect that would enhance this section would be the inclusion of the different immigration patterns of these groups and the sometimes routine return of individuals living in the United States to their countries of origin for health care services or to care for aging parents.

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