How can residential care homes become more culturally sensitive?

written by Hanna Murray-Carlsson

Cultural sensitivity in residential care homes was the topic of discussion during a symposium arranged by Kenniscentrum WWZ and Karel de Grote University Antwerp. The symposium was part of a learning trajectory towards culturally sensitive residential care, a project initiated by Flemish minister of welfare and public health, Jo Vandeurzen, in which managers, professionals and researchers reflect on possibilities for concrete change within three residential care homes in Belgium. Hanna Carlsson, a researcher from Radboud University Nijmegen, Family carer Fatos Ipek Demir from foundation Omaz and Fredric Lauscher, director of care organization Frankfurt Verband, were invited to share their experiences on the topic.

To Frederic Lauscher, director of care organization Frankfurt Verband, cultural sensitivity is intimately tied to quality of care. And not the narrow measures of quality described in medical protocols! He argued that real quality of care is more than ‘perfectly placed injections and well placed compression stockings’Quality of care is care that increases quality of life. Such care demands attention to how clients wish to be greeted, what food they like and which traditions they celebrate. Both German and Turkish clients have preferences -it is equally important that we are attentive to both, Frederic argued.

Hanna Carlsson, a researcher from Radboud University Nijmegen, discussed how important it is for clients to feel at home. We might assume that because our policy is to welcome everyone, everyone will automatically feel welcome. This is not the case! In the workshop, participants discussed their own experiences of feeling out of place in everyday life. Situations, where you don’t know the language, the social codes, or you are the only white person (or the only person with a headscarf), can be uncomfortable, even if no one is actively excluding you. Participants discussed ways to make residential care homes into more familiar places for older migrants. Ideas discussed were:

·      Culturally appropriate daycare activities, to lower the threshold to the residential care home for new groups

·      Celebration of festivities in the care home, organized by family members who get the freedom to shape the day however they wish too

·      Investing in staff that are familiar with different cultures, and who are able to translate care for older migrants, both literally and figuratively.

To Fatos Ipek Demir, who has a father with dementia with roots in Turkey and Greece, culturally sensitive care is all about open and honest communication. She asked the participants to be curious -not all migrants are the same! Fatos wished that staff in the care home had been curious about her father’s preferences more often. She would have liked to be asked what her father likes to eat: he is a Muslim who avoids pork but does not need halal. She also wishes that staff in the care home would have been interested in what hygiene meant to her father: similar to many Turkish men hygiene he finds extremely important and wants to shower several times a day, by a male carer. Fatos wishes that she had encountered more openness, honesty and curiosity on her journey with her dad through different care homes and stages of dementia. Now she fights for other carers and older migrants. Her mission is that care homes would be more willing to take personal preference, including cultural ones, into account. The same size does not fit all older people!