Celebrating Our Differences! Racial and Cultural Diversity in Memory Care communities
By Susan Stewart
As we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day during the month of January, we are reminded of the long way we have come and the long road still ahead in achieving the kind of equality Dr. King dreamed of. A cursory glance at Memory Care communities across the nation tells us that while Alzheimer’s Disease does not discriminate along racial lines, the populations living in these communities remain predominantly white.
A Center for Disease Control (CDC) survey found that 91 percent of those living in Assisted Living Communities (and Memory Care is a specialized type of Assisted Living) were Caucasian. That’s a disproportionate number compared to the general population. As our aging population increases, it will be important to finds ways to mitigate this disparity, and ensure that all Americans have access to quality memory care. This is especially important as current research reveals that minorities may be at greater risk for developing dementia.
“As the population of the U.S. ages and becomes more diverse, the burden of dementia may be falling disproportionately on elderly minorities, both in terms of prevalence and severity.” (from The Impact of Ethnoracial Differences in Alzheimer’s Disease by Chin, Negash, and Hamilton)
The authors of the above study admit that the reasons for this are unclear but could include the following: That sometimes both diagnosis and treatment are delayed for minority populations due to social and cultural factors, beliefs about normal versus abnormal aging, lack of adequate access to medical care, and issues of trust between them and the medical establishment.
“I think the biggest piece of the puzzle for some African Americans and some Hispanics comes down to finances,” says Debra Carter of the National Caucus & Center on Black Aging. The entry fee alone can be prohibitive for many minority families, she says, let alone the often pricey monthly fee.
But economics alone does not explain it. Andrea Doherty, a Massachusetts-based senior living expert suggests that it might be as simple as geography. Many assisted living and memory care communities are being built in regions where most people (predominantly white) can support the monthly price tag of placing a loved one, as opposed to lower income inner cities (where a higher percentage of minorities live).
Perhaps the best place to focus our attention, both as professionals in the memory care industry and as consumers, is on each individual community’s ability to welcome and accommodate the wide variety of cultures, colors, and ethnicities growing old in America.
At Sydney Creek, residents reflect the larger community of San Luis Obispo, which is predominantly Caucasian. In the coming years, that demographic will change. Life Enrichment staff are well trained to be inclusive and welcoming to all colors and backgrounds. Recent surveys confirm that Memory Care as an industry is aware of the need to address its increasingly diverse residents, and is working hard across the board to ensure that its staff and communities can meet their differing social and cultural needs. # # #