Aging In Place - In Spanish, It's Called 'The Extended Family'
If you think of “aging in place” as a new phenomenon, you probably didn’t grow up in an Hispanic household. For most first- and second-generation Hispanic Americans, living at home with Mom – or having Mom live with you – isn’t symptomatic of a sluggish economy, it’s a cultural norm.
Many adult Hispanic American children believe it is their duty to care for parents as they age, and will move in with their parents as they begin to require assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs), and in some cases, increased supervision due to dementia and other memory issues. After all, many grew up with their abuela and abuelo in their childhood homes.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as in many countries in Asia and across the Middle East, assisted living and retirement communities have just recently come into existence due to cultural and generational shifts. Despite this, many in these regions view skilled nursing facilities as a last resort, only considering them viable options once the parent’s health has greatly deteriorated and conditions have progressed beyond what the adult child can safely handle themselves. As a result, more move-in decisions are made at times of medical crisis, when specialized, around-the-clock attention is not merely nice to have, but a medical necessity.
But the trend is not just cultural, it’s economic, too. Hispanics represent the fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States, which translates into the fastest-growing aging population. In contrast to their Anglo counterparts, who are more likely to have spent their working years paying into retirement accounts or pension funds, older Hispanics are more likely to have worked in skilled or manual labor positions, leaving them unprepared to sustain themselves financially into their golden years. As a consequence, elderly Hispanics, especially those 75 and over, experience higher rates of poverty than do other groups. Older Hispanics are also less likely to receive Social Security benefits than the general population, and those who do are often dependent on this income for food and other basic needs.
And that’s where the familial bond comes into play. Remaining in the household offsets these gaps in income and care, especially since these multi-generational households also tend to include grandchildren and other family members. This living arrangement can provide both financial and emotional support. Living with family gives the elder member social contact and an opportunity to serve certain functions important in the Hispanic family system, such as passing down traditions and language, which may help curb the incidents of isolation and depression often seen in this age group.
While many highly acculturated Latino Boomers have chosen to care for their aging parents at home, they’re still on the fence about their own retirement options. Better understanding of what continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) can offer — combined with a determination not to burden their own adult children — weigh heavily against deeply ingrained familial ties and the desire to stay connected to their homes and communities.
So, how do we bridge the gaps in culture and care? Time and familiarity are the best teachers. As Hispanic Boomers wade into the skilled nursing waters with their parents, their own options become clearer. Planning also takes center stage, allowing Hispanic Boomers to better gauge their future needs and care options. While many will still choose to remain with family, they will be better versed in options such as home care and Medicare reimbursement benefits available to them, which will make aging in place safer and less stressful for all involved.