By Yanira Cruz and Ocean Le. This article appeared on the American Society on Aging (ASA), Generations Today | July-August 2021
Editor’s Note: This article represents the fifth in a series by the Diverse Elders Coalition (DEC) to be published in Generations Today. Articles are connected to ASA-hosted webinars; see end of article to register. The series of articles by the DEC highlights research from The Caregiving Initiative, a multiyear research project funded by The John A. Hartford Foundation.
The 2020 pandemic has brought up many problems for Hispanic/Latinx communities, and highlighted multiple preexisting health inequities identified in our 2019 national caregiving survey, particularly for Hispanic/Latinx caregivers. These inequities still exist and have proven problematic as we strive to vaccinate the Hispanic/Latinx community.
Who Are Hispanic/Latinx Caregivers?
More than half of our survey participants identified as females, aligning with previous studies. Hispanic/Latinx caregivers also were older (ages 54 and up), and were more likely to have attended high school. However, significant differences exist between Hispanic/Latinx caregivers who were born in the United States and those who were born elsewhere. U.S.-born Hispanic/Latinx caregivers were significantly younger, had higher educational degrees and reported more strain with their care receivers.
Cultural Impacts of Caregiving
The caregiver experience for Hispanic/Latinx caregivers may differ depending upon their origin of birth and English proficiency. Caregivers born in the United States were more likely to help with health-related tasks, whereas caregivers who were born outside the United States were more likely to help with cultural tasks (i.e. providing translations, interpreting at appointments, etc.).
‘OFTEN, HISPANIC/LATINX CAREGIVERS ARE THE SOLE CAREGIVERS FOR THEIR LOVED ONES.’
Hispanic/Latinx caregivers may be influenced by cultural values such as familism (wherein the needs of the family are greater than the individual), however the younger population of Hispanic/Latinx caregivers who were born in the United States may be influenced by other phenomena such as assimilation. The differences between U.S.-born and immigrant Hispanic/Latinx caregivers highlight implications of the dynamic between caregivers and care receivers.
Many caregivers within the Hispanic/Latinx community don’t realize they are caregivers or don’t identify with the term. Some think they are just doing what they should for their families or loved ones. However, this is a full-time job requiring adequate conditions to fulfill tasks, live in peace and develop fully—either as caregivers or in other roles in life.
The Need for Respite, Financial Assistance and Mental Health Services
The high cultural commitment we found (75 percent) to caregiving among Hispanic/Latinx caregivers may force them to neglect their own health. Often, Hispanic/Latinx caregivers are the sole caregivers for their loved ones (50.9 percent), placing them at risk of isolation and mental health strain. In our survey, more than one in four Hispanic/Latinx caregivers reported being more isolated due to caregiving (30.3 percent). Similarly, more than one in four Hispanic/Latinx caregivers reported more emotional and physical strain due to caregiving (31.3 percent).
Rates of isolation and health strain among Hispanic/Latinx caregivers may be a result of difficulties performing healthcare and cultural tasks. More than half of Hispanic/Latinx caregivers reported some or a great deal of difficulties with healthcare-related tasks such as medication management and/or wound care (56.9 percent).
Similarly, seven in 10 Hispanic/Latinx caregivers reported some or plenty of difficulties with other tasks like coordinating or arranging services such as physicians, nurses, etc. Our findings are consistent with a 2012 AARP report, where caregivers reported higher task difficulties, less formal training and discrimination from healthcare services.
It is clear that Hispanic/Latinx caregivers have a strong cultural commitment to caring for older loved ones, even risking their health for the well-being of others. Hence, it is imperative that we provide the necessary support to improve the lives of our Hispanic/Latinx caregivers.
One Hispanic/Latinx caregiver from a Maryland focus group put it this way, “As a 24/7 family caregiver, the level of stress increases while taking care of my parents and taking care of myself. However, having them with me and the opportunity to take care of them is gratifying and valuable, which I do it with great honor.”
Implications of COVID-19
Across the United States, health inequities became increasingly pronounced during the pandemic, worsening preexisting stressors, strains and both physical and mental health outcomes for Hispanic/Latinx caregivers and their older loved ones. Consequently, COVID-19 has revealed the failures of the housing, health and social infrastructures provided to our Hispanic/Latinx communities.
The impact of the pandemic has been particularly significant in the Hispanic/Latinx community, but it remains unclear as data on this cohort, their caregivers and older loved ones during COVID-19 has been extremely limited and inconsistent.
‘RECRUIT, PROMOTE AND SUPPORT A DIVERSE WORKFORCE THAT REPRESENTS THE CULTURE OF THE COMMUNITY.’
The National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) knows how important it is to empower our communities with trustworthy information that is science-based. Therefore, it has launched a multilingual COVID-19 Resource Center that is helping underserved communities, providing scientifically based information on vaccines, current safety guidelines, facts about COVID-19, vaccine enrollment and free transportation.
Services are available in Spanish, English and Portuguese. This effort is designed to empower and inform people with the resources to stay healthy during the pandemic and to stop the spread of the virus, which is leaving so much pain and grief within our community. NHCOA’s Resource Center can be reached at (866) 488-7379.
Best Practices to Support Hispanic/Latinx Caregivers
The following are some best practices from DEC’s cultural competency training curriculum to better support Hispanic/Latinx caregivers:
- Recruit, promote and support a diverse workforce that represents the culture of the community.
- Use community leaders to recruit and deliver comprehensive and innovative programming among Hispanic/Latinx older adults and caregivers.
- Offer information in Spanish and English to effectively reach Latinos. Develop translated culturally competent in-office and online materials to provide information and caregiver training. Keep in mind that not everyone has access to a computer or the internet.
- Training such as NHCOA’s Leadership Training: Caring for the Caregiver, a 2-day training where we focus on “Accepting Oneself as a Caregiver” and “Becoming a Better Caregiver.” Day 2 focuses on caregiver empowerment. During the second day, caregivers learn about key federal legislation affecting them in their roles and how to be their own advocates. This workshop provides culturally and linguistically educational materials for caregivers to take care of their mental and physical health. This training targets Hispanic caregivers and caregivers providing care to Hispanic older adults.
- Virtual events such as NHCOA’s webinars and town hall series, which are dedicated to empowering caregivers and older adults by connecting them with experts from the aging field, such as local leaders, advocates, service providers and policymakers to work toward solutions that address their specific needs.
- Creating social media campaigns to reflect on important issues, especially related to caregiving during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as articles with scientific information posted on NHCOA’s website, that help caregivers to understand and improve the relationships between them and the person they care for. For more information visit www.nhcoa.org.
*The terms Latino, Hispanic and Latinx are used interchangeably throughout the article.
Yanira Cruz, MPH, DrPH, is president and CEO of the NHCOA in Washington, DC. Ocean Le, MS, is program coordinator at the DEC in New York City.
Attend a DEC training on the needs of diverse caregivers: Register for our upcoming webinar on July 22, “Caring for Those Who Care: Meeting the Needs of Southeast Asian American Caregivers.” Or Download the DEC’s Resources for Providers: Meeting the Needs of Diverse Family Caregivers Toolkit. This toolkit offers topline information on what providers need to know, and key pieces from our comprehensive training curriculum, Caring For Those Who Care: Meeting the Needs of Diverse Family Caregivers.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.