Consider Cultural Differences

It’s been difficult to find an aide we can hire to help with the care of my mother due to various cultural differences. Is there a way around this?

Christine in Nevada, 49

First, you want to bring in someone who is compassionate, experienced, and understanding about the aging process. But they also have to be sensitive to any cultural differences that exist. Both your elder and the aide must be on the same page so they can get along and work together.

I’m talking about specific cultural differences such as food, language, religion, and even greetings. Some aides cook for their clients, and they’re tempted to spice foods as they would like them made for themselves. But the aide has to be told before hand how your elder would like the food to be prepared so she knows to accommodate your elder’s tastes. This includes texture and temperature as well as flavor. And if there are any issues such as keeping a kosher kitchen or dietary constraints, they must be followed, too.

Cultural differences are not always obvious by looks or dress or accent. Some aides are just not aware of subtleties or what’s acceptable for the elder. It can be as simple as the greeting. Does your elder prefer to shake hands, get a hug, or give a kiss on the cheek? Maybe a kiss once on each cheek upon arrival is the norm. Make sure what is preferred is very clear.

Sometimes the speech patterns are hard for both the elder and the aide to understand. Most cases can be dealt with by having each speak slower to the other. They can also repeat questions and answers until they both truly understand what’s being said.

If there are any cultural misunderstandings, address them right away so that nobody’s feelings are hurt. Stay with the facts and remove the emotion to reach a harmonious resolution. Once an elder and an aide become angry with each other, it’s very hard to repair the relationship and move forward. The aide has to be trained about specific needs and can then be corrected if she goes astray in the first few months. The aide wants your elder to be happy so she’ll usually try to correct any problems right away.

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