La familia: Hispanic families face familiar and new challenges in caregiving

The Hispanic population, like it or not, is the fastest growing population in The United States. Hispanic people are more likely to be uninsured, have chronic illnesses like diabetes, oh, and they outlive non-Hispanic whites and African-Americans, creating what is called the “Hispanic Paradox.” Meanwhile, for Hispanics, there is a very real expectation that family members will support and care for them.

Personally, as a kid, my parents were the primary caregivers for my aging grandmother, who died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2000. Though she lived over 100 miles away, they never once batted an eye about driving out to her house every single weekend for years. Such is the life of caregiving, whether Hispanic or not. Check out the story below and leave your thoughts in the comments. -SP

Strains for Hispanic Caregivers

Fabiola Santiago lives in the Miami suburbs, two miles from her 81-year-old mother and 87-year-old father, whom she looks after. As the single mother of three grown daughters, she might live in the city or in Miami Beach if she had no family responsibilities — but to her, that’s like saying she’d fly if she woke up tomorrow with wings. It’s a fantasy.

For Ms. Santiago, 51, as for many other Hispanic adults, familialismo — the expectation that family members will support and assist one another, including aging relatives — defines adult life. “Family takes care of family,” she said.

Her parents fled Cuba in 1969, bringing Ms. Santiago and her brother to the United States. When Ms. Santiago’s first daughter was born, her mother quit her job to care for the child, enabling Ms. Santiago to pursue a career in journalism. Eventually she became a staff writer at The Miami Herald.

“My parents left everyone they loved and everything they had so that my brother and I could live in a democratic country,” said Ms. Santiago. “How could I not take care of them now?”

Caregiving obligations are deeply felt in many Hispanic families; even those with few resources traditionally have not hesitated to assume responsibility for aging parents. But these days familialismo is running up against harsh modern realities. According to Jacqueline Angel, professor of sociology and public policy at the University of Texas, many Hispanic families are struggling with language barriers that make navigating the health care system difficult, and with poverty that limits care options and makes retirement planning an elusive, unaffordable dream.

Hispanics also live longer on average than African-Americans and non-Hispanic whites, despite higher levels of poverty and less health insurance coverage — a combination so unusual that researchers call it the “Hispanic paradox.” At the same time, Hispanics experience higher rates of diabetes and obesity than non-Hispanic whites, which complicate caregiving at home.

Those responsibilities most often fall on women, as they do in most families. “They 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 the 2008, the last year for which data are available, the percentage of Hispanics over age 65 living with relatives was about double that of the total population of older adults.

Read more at the New Old Age blog at The New York

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