Cultural Diversity in Geriatrics and Gerontology Education

By Yeo, Gwen; McBride, Melen | Annual Review of Gerontology & Geriatrics, January 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

Cultural Diversity in Geriatrics and Gerontology Education

Yeo, Gwen, McBride, Melen, Annual Review of Gerontology & Geriatrics

The educational experiences available in cultural diversity and aging are almost as diverse as the elders themselves. Faculty in many disciplines have found many different ways to try to prepare students to meet the challenges of an increasingly heterogeneous population of older adults. The realizations that elders from populations defined officially as minorities will probably be one-third of older Americans by the middle of the 21st century (Federal Interagency Forum on Aging Related Statistics, 2000), that there is vast diversity within each of these populations and within the White majority, and that there are unique cultural needs and issues associated with each group have prompted increasing attention to cultural diversity in gerontology and geriatrics instruction during the last four decades.


The evolution of curricula and models of instruction in the fields that have come to be known as ethnogerontology and ethnogeriatrics are even more recent than that of their relatively new parent disciplines of gerontology and geriatrics themselves. Not until the late 1980s and early 1990s were there descriptions of specific educational programs focusing on cultural diversity of older adults.

One of the fiefds from which ethnogerontology and ethnogeriatrics emerged was anthropology, with its descriptions of distinct cultures. These descriptions frequently included the cultures' definitions of age stratification and roles of distinct ages and generations. Examples of the anthropological perspective that informed early ethnogerontology are the book edited by Gelfand and Kutzik in 1979, Ethnicity and Aging: Theory, Research, and Practice, and the founding of the Association of Anthropology and Gerontology (AAGE) in 1978.

Other early influences were the writings of Jacqueline J. Jackson, from Duke University, who is generally credited with bringing attention to the field and developing the term ethnogerontology, emphasizing the influence of race, national origin, and culture on the aging of both the individual and populations (Jackson, 1976). At about the same time, James S. Jackson at the University of Michigan was building a research center focusing on Black aging, recruiting faculty with that expertise, and publishing excellent sources of information for faculty to use in their ethnogerontology courses. Percil Stanford and other members of the San Diego State University Center on Minority Aging, funded by the Administration on Aging (AoA), conducted research among elders from Black, American Indian, Chinese, Guamanian, Japanese, Latino, Filipino, and Samoan ethnic backgrounds in San Diego during the mid 1970s; the results were published in individual monographs describing their demographic characteristics and health needs (Valle, 1976) which were used as the basis for teaching by many faculty. AoA also began funding advocacy organizations for elders from four ethnic minority populations in 1973; these organizations (National Caucus and Center on Black Aging, National Hispanic Council on Aging, National Indian Council on Aging, and National Asian Pacific Center on Aging) also helped to bring emphasis to the needs of their target populations and developed information used for curriculum.

With the realization in the 1980s of the growing diversity of the U.S. population, including older adults, gerontologists began to recognize the need to prepare students to work with the culturally heterogeneous populations of elders. In 1988 we reviewed the listings in the 1987 National Directory of Educational Programs published by the Association of Gerontology in Higher Education (AGHE) (Peterson, Bergstone, & Lobenstine, 1987) for content in "ethnic" or "minority" or "cross-cultural" issues in aging. Of the 404 colleges and universities with listings in the AGHE directory, 41 had a reference to ethnogerontological content, 16 of which were in health care disciplines. …

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