Cultural awareness improves dementia care for South Asian minorities

This article comes to us from the UK-based news source, The Guardian. You can access the original article by clicking on the title, below.

Cultural awareness improves dementia care for South Asian minorities

Reduced awareness and stigma around mental health can prevent people from the south Asian community accessing dementia care.

An elderly Sikh lady is helped to her chair in a multicultural extra Care home Bradford West Yorkshire.

‘It is ingrained in the south Asian community to take care of family members for longer than in the general population.’ Photograph: Alamy

Different cultures have different perceptions of mental illnesses – including dementia. In fact, in the UK, people from the south Asian community are more likely to approach their GPs for physical than mental health symptoms. With south Asian ethnic minority groups one of the largest minority groups in western countries, improving dementia care for south Asians is becoming increasingly more important (pdf).

Almost every day there’s an article on dementia in the news, be that how chocolate consumption can boost your memory or a negative care home report. Sometimes, there is direct insight from people with dementia, such attendeees of last year’s 24th Alzheimer Europe conference in Glasgow. The topic of the conference was dignity and autonomy in dementia and delegates signed the Glasgow Declaration: a commitment to promote the rights and needs of people with dementia. So, how can we ensure we respect the needs of south Asian minorities?

One way to look at this is to first examine what needs to happen for a person to receive the right dementia care. In our research into the topic, we found several barriers and facilitators in providing culturally-appropriate care. People need to recognise the symptoms of dementia themselves, or their family members or friends or the wider community; the person needs to approach a professional, who refers on to a specialist; and once a diagnosis is made, people need to be able to access appropriate health and social care services supporting them along their journey through dementia.

There are many well-known barriers which can inhibit south Asian people from recognising dementia and approaching their GP, including: reduced awareness of dementia; stigma; considering symptoms as normal ageing; believing that GPs only deal with physical symptoms, and believing that nothing can be done for memory problems if they are God-given. As the national dementia strategy points out raising awareness is crucial. The all-party parliamentary group on dementia recommends targeting campaigns to raise awareness at young school children as an easily-accessible route into the community, as well as organisations for people with dementia and their carers.

Once awareness raisers are in place within the community, more people will approach their GP for assessment. So how can major barriers such as language, lack of awareness of dementia and presenting symptom patterns be overcome?Research carried out in Wolverhampton (pdf) found that educational days for primary care teams, handing out informative leaflets and holding talks all helped. More radically, offering Asian language tuition to social services staff also contributed to higher satisfaction with the care provided. These are just some options to help south Asians access more dementia services and receive a diagnosis.

But services also lack cultural adaptation. It is ingrained in the south Asian community to take care of family members for longer than in the general population, which is usually what most people with dementia want – to stay at home for as long as possible. But there comes a stage in the disease where behaviour and caring responsibilities may put too much of a strain on the family carer(s). It is then that people with dementia are usually admitted to a care home. But most south Asian people feel that care homes are not suitable for their requirements.

The Bradford dementia ward is a great example of how services for people with dementia are being improved to support their needs. With the hospital working together with Meri Yadaain, an organisation dedicated to improving dementia care for people from the south Asian community, services are more tailored to the needs.

To really help south Asian people access the dementia care they need, we must approach this issue from three angles: the community, social care and health professionals, and services. With the reshaping and changing of services and the education of professionals being very costly, starting at a community level and raising awareness is the best place to start.

There are already examples of great community projects taking place. The Manchester LMCP Care Link works with social services to visit older south Asian people, discuss their health and social care needs, connect them to the right services and speak to them in their own language. And the Alzheimer’s Society has worked to develop a dementia information programme for south Asian families. Community centres such as these should be the first points of access, and offer us great examples to learn from.


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