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Cultural Awareness in Dementia Care: My Norms, Your Values-What Does It Matter?!
posted 01.05.2017

By Nancy Lee

Do you know why music therapy is not an acceptable therapeutic intervention for Somali elders with dementia? Are you aware of how the trauma of the Boarding school experience shows up among American Indian elders today?

The Minnesota Board on Aging (MBA) initiative, “Cultural Awareness in Dementia Care” is a unique effort to help aging network and healthcare providers with their outreach and service delivery to diverse ethnic and cultural communities. It is commonly reported that Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD) disproportionately affect members of ethnic and cultural communities who also have high rates of diabetes, hypertension and cardio vascular disease - risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. For example, African-Americans are 2 times and Latinos 1.5 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. We also know that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons, as well as persons who are deaf or hard of hearing are at higher risk for ADRD. However, awareness activities, education, dementia diagnosis and support services that are culturally responsive have been slow to develop for all these communities. Some service providers report that they don’t know how to appropriately assist communities such as these.

Underwritten by an Alzheimer’s Disease Initiative (ADI) grant from the US Administration on Community Living (ACL), the MBA created an initiative that promotes principles of health equity and enhances person-centered dementia care for diverse ethnic and cultural communities who most often experience health disparities. The ADI initiative increases awareness among aging service providers and healthcare personnel about the norms and values of specific ethnic and cultural groups to assist them in providing culturally responsive service.

In particular, the MBA has created a pool of cultural consultant resource contractors. Thus far, individuals from numerous cultural communities (African-American, American Indian, Central African-Swahili, East African, Hmong, Latino/Hispanic/Chicano, Russian/Ukranian and Somalian) volunteered to be part of the program. They completed on-line and in-person dementia trainings to become consultants as part of this initiative. These consultants have extensive knowledge of their community’s cultural norms and values. They also have excellent academic qualifications: one is a U.S. physician, several are physicians in their country of origin, and others are PhDs or have a master’s in public health.

These cultural consultants are aware of how their community members react to and deal with ADRD. Because they now have been trained with specific additional dementia knowledge, they can make presentations about the cultural nuances, assist with outreach, help plan new initiatives, do research and further the efforts of other activities. Additional outreach to expand the consultant pool to additional ethnic and cultural groups is ongoing. This much-needed service may be the first initiative of its kind in the United States.

If you would like to learn more about this important subject, join the MBA webinar, “Cultural Awareness in Dementia Care” on January 17, 2017 from 1:00–2:00 PM Eastern. Click here for additional information on the webinar.

Nancy E. Lee, MRP, develops projects for the DHS—Minnesota Board on Aging to enhance the effectiveness of services offered by the aging provider network. For further information about the Cultural Awareness in Dementia Care initiative contact Nancy at 651-431-4258 or

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