Unique research invalidates myths about dementia care for the elderly having a migration background

written by Saloua Berdai Chaouni

Diverse Elderly Care combines for the first time the vision of the elderly, caregivers and professional caregivers in one study.


With the results of four years of research, Saloua Berdai Chaouni and Ann Claeys refute current opinions and representations about (dementia) care for older adults with a migration background. They also provide care recommendations towards this older population. For three years they followed first-generation labor migrants of Moroccan, Turkish and Italian origin, their family and professional caregivers.

It is generally assumed that families with a migration background take care of older adults themselves. This research does not confirm this image. The reality seems not so black and white. Rather, the researchers found that older migrants had a realistic view of care. Like every older person, they prefer to stay in their familiar environment for as long as possible. Some of them cherish the expressed or not expressed desire to be cared for by their own children. Yet, they realize that this is often not possible or desirable. Little is known about the range of in-home care services by this older population. Once they receive information about these services, they see them as a valid option and a good alternative for a care center.

Family caregivers with a migration background are true pioneers. Just like for other informal caregivers, the entire dementia experience is a major search process for information, solutions, and ways to deal with this condition. But caregivers with a migration background, have to face an additional challenging layer: there are no examples of people with dementia available in their own network, dementia care services are not known and have to motivate their care choices to their community and to professional care providers. Additionally, there is a lack of suitable dementia care that is sensitive to the multi-layered identity of these older persons. The course of care depends on the competences and possibilities available within one’s own transnational network. The accidental meeting of a professional care provider who is sensitive to this reality can make a huge difference in facilitating this dementia care process.

The vision of professional care providers on care for older adults with a migration background shows two conflicting tendencies. People with dementia with a Turkish or Moroccan background are only seen as “Muslims”. On the other hand, they pay no attention to the cultural identity of the Italian persons with dementia: they are perceived “like Belgians”. The concept of culture-sensitive care is narrowed down to a checklist of practical matters with a strong focus on aspects such as language or nutrition by these professionals. The “we” versus “them” thinking is dominant throughout the discourse of the majority among the participants. These professionals hardly self-aware of this discourse and its influence on their care provision is therefore not questioned. These aspects deserves more attention in education and training for professionals. The researchers conclude that it is necessary to work towards a novel care model for these older migrants with dementia, that take into account these findings.

In 2020 the researchers will launch their book ‘Dementie bij ouderen met een migratie-achtergrond’ bringing together their findings and recommendations.

For more information, please contact:

Saloua Berdai Chaouni and Ann Claeys

saloua.berdai-chaouni@ehb.be and Ann.claeys@ehb.be

This project was funded by EFRD Brussels.