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Caring for African-American Elders

07/21/1998

OXFORD, Ohio -- While home care by relatives is preferred by African-American elders and their families, the elders are more willing to enter nursing homes than their families are to send them, mostly because they don't want to be a burden.

That's one of many findings reported in "African-American Elders' Long-Term Care Preferences and Choices" by Lisa Groger, associate professor of sociology, gerontology and anthropology at Miami University and colleagues at Miami's Scripps Gerontology Center.

As with the population as a whole, the elderly are the fastest-growing segment of the African-American population. While nursing homes are an option of last resort, statewide data on Medicaid-certified nursing home beds revealed that African-American elders are more likely than whites to use nursing homes.

But, when elders entered formal care, familial care did not decrease, but instead refocused on interpersonal support.

While in-home services allow independence for elders, many families lack information about them, the report says.

Interviews with 60 care recipients and caregivers and eight focus groups revealed a culture of caring, exemplified by deliberate efforts to teach children that caring for elders is the right thing to do and then showing them how to do it.

"The culture of caring is strong among African-American family members of all generations," says Groger. However, demographic and economic realities alter best intentions.

Three major reasons for caring were found: reciprocity, altruism, self-interest and a hybrid of the last two.

Constraints on kin care fell into three categories: caregiver factors, care recipient factors and circumstances.

In addition to Groger, report authors include Scripps researchers Pamela S. Mayberry, Jane K. Straker and Shahla Mehdizadeh.

Groger and colleagues suggest that more information about and experience with nursing homes and other formal care will ease African-Americans' use of them, and help families include formal care in their culture of caring.

The study was funded by the Administration on Aging, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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