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How can I overcome cultural differences if I am a caregiver?

Anne Fabiny
Geriatric Medicine
Cultural sensitivity adds an important dimension to health care. Sometimes a caregiver must act as a go-between, explaining customs to both health care personnel and the patient and brainstorming ways to get beyond possible hurdles to good medical care. These tips may help you work through common obstacles:
  • Language. Perhaps the person you are helping speaks a language other than English. An interpreter -- preferably someone trained in medical interpretation or, if not, a friend or family member -- can help explain health concerns to the doctor and medical issues to the patient. If interpreter services are available, make sure to state the need for an interpreter when you make your appointment. Ask for written health information in the right language. Good sources for such materials include large hospitals, community hospitals, and health centers in areas where there are large immigrant populations, as well as cultural organizations and government health Web sites.
  • Modesty. No one enjoys flapping hospital gowns that expose more than they conceal. If modesty is especially important, explain this. Ask for a covering sheet so that less of the body is exposed. It may also help to have a health care provider of the same sex as the patient.
  • Decision-making and information. How much information patients want about their condition and care options differs from person to person, but culture may also play a role. Treatment decisions may be made by the patient or caregiver, a wider family group, or a trusted friend or family member who may or may not have medical training. Discussing these issues early with clinicians will help them understand the situation, possibly making care decisions go more smoothly.
  • Cultural belief. Western medicine may diverge considerably from cultural beliefs about why people get sick and what might help them get well. Sharing beliefs about healing and information about whether a person uses non-Western medicine is important. It may be possible to incorporate some beliefs into care or gently dispel others that might be damaging. Some medications interact with herbal remedies, so it's wise to let doctors and pharmacists know whether the patient is using any supplements.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.