A Study on Dementia among Families with Minority Ethnic Backgrounds in Norway

written by Elżbieta Anna Czapka

Immigrants know very little about how to help an elderly person with dementia in Norway… Because we don’t know where to get the information and help.”(a family caregiver to person living with dementia) 

Norwegian Health Association obtained funding from Extrastiftelsen for a postdoc researcher, Elżbieta Czapka, to conduct a research project about experiences with and responses to cognitive impairment among migrant families in Norway. The project was carried out by Oslo Metropolitan University in collaboration with The Norwegian Centre for Migration and Minority Health (NAKMI). 

Norway is ethnically, linguistically and culturally diverse.  Immigrants constitute 17,7% of the country’s total population (Statistics Norway, 2020). The migration population is much younger than the general population due to Norway’s short immigration history. However, according to estimations, the number of older immigrants will increase tenfold by 2050. 

The study aimed at producing new knowledge on the relations between aging, dementia, and care, need and practices among migrant populations in Norway. Elderly migrants constitute a group that poses special challenges regarding dementia diagnosis and treatment. In Norway, the older people with minority ethnic background underuse dementia services. For example, they seldom live in care institutions. It is due to existence of many barriers to accessing and using such facilities experienced by people with different linguistic and cultural background.

The project included families with minority ethnic backgrounds, representatives of health and care personnel and key persons from migrant communities. The study found several barriers to accessing and using dementia services by people with minority ethnic backgrounds living in Norway. The most important barriers included lack of knowledge about dementia and about the available dementia services, lack of language competence and low level of education. The other group of barriers was related to the Norwegian dementia services that were not adapted to migrants’ needs. The project leader Elżbieta Czapka and her mentor prof. Mette Sagbakken believe that there is a need for the interventions studies that would facilitate the process of migrants’ inclusion in dementia services in Norway and promote the patient-centered care. 

In addition to the informants, who had family members living with dementia in Norway, the project leader decided to interview migrants, who provided care to the older parents living with dementia across the borders. The study findings show that transnational caregivers experienced many challenges related to care provision, and that there is a need for the policies that would facilitate transnational caring. It is especially important in case of labor migrants who are relatively young and who have aging parents living in countries where children are obliged by the existing social norms and by law to provide care to their elderly parents.  

To conclude, first, we should not overestimate the role of culture when we talk about migrants’ access to dementia services. There are other factors, such us low level of education or lack of knowledge about health care system in a host country that can hinder migrants’ access to and use of health care services. Second, in a globalized world many families are separated but it does not remove the socially constructed children’s obligations to provide care for the elderly family members.