Academic journal article Care Management Journals

Serving Multicultural Elders: Recommendations for Helping Professionals

Academic journal article Care Management Journals

Serving Multicultural Elders: Recommendations for Helping Professionals

Article excerpt

As demographic patterns shift in the United States, helping professionals are likely to see more clients of color, including those who are first-generation immigrants. Additionally, given the aging of the American population, helping professionals are likely to encounter more elderly clients and their families. It is crucial that helping professionals be prepared to respond to elders from various cultural populations in effective and respectful ways. This article gives an overview of how old age may interact with cultural identity. This information can be useful for professionals in many different settings working with elders from various cultural backgrounds.

The concept of cultural competence has received increased attention in the helping professions in recent years. Indeed, not only professions such as social work have recognized cultural competence as an ethical imperative (National Association of Social Workers [NASW], 1999), but also some helping professionals have stated it is impossible to be clinically competent without being culturally competent (Coleman, 1998).

In addition to culture, there are many different facets of a person's identity. For example, gender, class, spirituality, immigration status, and age are a few key aspects that may shape how an individual sees himself or herself and how that person is seen by others. When working with clients, it is important to identify which aspects of identity are relevant in any given situation as well as how various aspects of identity may interact. This article gives an overview of how old age may interact with cultural identity. This information can be useful for helping professionals in many different settings working with elders from various cultural backgrounds.

TERMINOLOGY

The terms used to label different groups of people are grounded in values about those being labeled. Indeed, the choice of terms is often grounded in cultural beliefs and worldviews. The terms elderly, aged, elders, older Americans, and similar terms, although sometimes used interchangeably, all carry somewhat different connotations. The term elder, commonly used in Native American contexts, often implies that someone has earned respect through a lifetime of experience and has something to offer younger generations. On the other hand, the term elderly may evoke an image of someone frail and more in need of assistance than capable of helping others. Although no single term is inherently more appropriate, it is important to reflect on how labels used by helping professionals, clients, and others in U.S. society are steeped in particular values. Likewise, it is important to reflect of the power inherent in choosing a name. Allowing clients to use terms that they prefer to label themselves is not only empowering but can also be considered as a matter of social justice. On the other hand, a service provider who uses an ethnic- or age-based label without consulting a client reinforces the power differential inherent in the helping relationship and may inadvertently disempower the client.

Furthermore, there are many different terms used to label various cultural and ethnic groups. These terms are also value-laden and carry different connotations for different people. For example, someone may choose to call himself or herself Chicano as a reflection of a particular ethnic and political identity, whereas someone else may reject this label and prefer the term Mexican American. For some, the label Chicano may be associated with taking an assertive political stance and embracing solidarity with the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Some individuals may view labels that include the term "American" as a positive way to embrace being a citizen of the United States, whereas some Chicanos or indigenous peoples reject this term as an oppressive manifestation of colonialism. The choice of terminology is often connected with a sense of self or identity. Because there is no clear consensus, the author chooses to use terms such as elder that are generally considered respectful at the time of this writing. …

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