Photo: Hispanic Family Caregivers
As parents/relatives age, their children/family members usually consider the option of sending them to nursing homes or other care facilities, but for almost one-third of Hispanic caregivers, that is not an option, whether due to income or emotional issues.
The responsibility to take care of aging and ailing relatives often falls on the women of the family, and there tends to be a sense of obligation for all their parents have tried to give them, and women like caregiver Fabiola Santiago say, “Family takes care of family.”
In 1969, Santiago’s parents fled Cuba, bringing her and her brother to the United States. When she had her first daughter, her mother quit her job to stay home and take care of the child, allowing Fabiola a career in journalism. She would eventually become a staff writer at The Miami Herald.
She said, “My parents left everyone they loved and everything they had so that my brother and I could live in a democratic country. How could I not take care of them now?”
For others like Santiago, even with already limited resources, it is commonplace for Hispanics to take on the responsibility of aging family.
While living longer than non-Hispanic whites and African-Americans, Hispanics also have higher rates of diabetes and obesity, making things even more difficult for the caregiver. The longer life, despite poverty and less health coverage, is referred to as the “Hispanic paradox.”
According to Professor Jacqueline Angel of the University of Texas, a number of Hispanic families are also having trouble with language barriers, making understanding the health care system a challenge. Poverty is often an issue as well and quite limiting when it comes to options. Retirement for caregivers is often not an option, as it saving up for it is near impossible.
“[Hispanic caregivers] often underutilize formal services and experience a great deal of stress,” said Maria Rosa, vice president of the National Council of La Raza’s Institute for Hispanic Health. “Still, because of language barriers, low income, lack of insurance or a genuine feeling of responsibility, Latinos continue to use family as a primary source of care. ” In 2008, the percentage of Hispanics over age 65 living with relatives was about double that of the total population of older adults.
Putting someone “in a home” is usually the absolute last resort for Hispanic caregivers, and only becomes an option when those being cared for make it almost impossible to be taken care of (ex. they wander away, leave stoves one, can never be left alone).
As new generations grow old and younger generations grow up, Dr. Angel says things must change for those providing care, and it begins with education.
The National Hispanic Council on Aging has recently introduced an “e-learning” center to help families as their relatives age. Also, educational materials for health care workers on how to be more involved in the Hispanic community to better understand their needs.