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Aging, Culture, Ethnicity and Family Care Essay

Bringing Culture Back Home: Aging, Ethnicity and Family Support, Jay Sokolovsky

The author conducts a literature review on the capability of the ethnic community to take care of its aging community. He aims to test the hypothesis that the ethnic community is more than able to take care of its elderly sufficiently. His reviews of the studies that have been conducted by other anthropologists indicate otherwise. In the Hispanic community, the culture was one of close family interaction and profound family loyalty. It has been perceived that the

Hispanic elderly receive the highest level of emotional family support. Sokolovsky highlights studies that have shown the levels of obligation and an expectation of kin support was declining in the Hispanic society. The elderly were not turning to family for assistance preferring to suffer in silence. The research by the author shows the limitations of the informal structures in dealing with the elderly. He proposes that the voluntary agencies should stop putting so much pressure on families to take care of their elderly kin.

Age of Wisdom: Elderly Black Women in Family and Church, Jane W. Peterson

The author sought to understand fully the role of elderly black women in the family and church. Relevant literature appreciated the role of black as wise women in the community. They helped in rearing the grandchildren and gave great advice to the adults. She participates in great decision making.

She is the organizer of the family reunions and the custodian of the family history. The author conducted her own research and spent time with an elderly woman called Lottie. Her experiences reinforced the findings of other studies on the role and importance of elderly black women.

The author spent time in the Refugee Church of God in Christ where she saw the elderly black woman regarded as highly. They are referred as mothers and deemed to be wise. This is due to their experiences in child birth and rearing, illness, death and other challenges in life. This shows the overwhelming support they will get in the family and church due to their age.

The Social and Cultural Context of Adaptive Aging by Southeast Asian Elders, Barbara W. K. Yee

The author over a period of twenty years has conducted mental health workshops. He examines the cultural transformation of the Southeast Asians in America over time from the perspective of the elderly generation. He researches on the coping and adaptive strategies used by the elderly Asians to the different culture in their current resident country.

He highlights his experiences with four elderly Asians in the article. The results showed there were cases of positive and negative adaptation. In America, the elderly advice is not treasured as the younger generation is embracing a whole new culture. These Asians were rescued from their countries by the families so they are totally dependent on their families for financial support.

They have lost their high status in terms of providing for their families and inheritance. The elderly who lived far from the family, by themselves had a tougher time adjusting to their new life. Yet in houses with teenagers there were high levels of intergenerational conflicts on culture. In some families there have been suicides, deaths and even murders in the elderly generation. Those who have successfully adapted had to learn English, compromise and adapt to the new cultures.

The Dynamics of Ethnic Identity and Bereavement among Older Widowers, Mark R. Luborsky and Robert L. Rubinstein

The authors studied the impact the ethnicity of an elderly individual assisted him or her to deal with bereavement. They found that the ethnic identity and practices in different cultures such as in the Irish, Jewish and Italian communities greatly assisted them to deal positively with the loss of a spouse in old age. It assisted them to adapt to life after the great loss.

The researchers found certain themes in adaptive and non-adaptive or destructive behavior in elderly that could assist the psychotherapists deal with the mourning elderly. They found out that culture was powerful. It connected the people biologically as they sought to know their family lineage (Luborsky, Rubinstein, 1997, p 305). Culture shaped their belief system giving them an ethnic identity. The strong link to culture and ethnicity assisted the aged to cope with life after the loss of a loved one.

Social Support Systems of Rural Older Women: A Comparison of the United States and Denmark, Dena Shenk and Kitter Christiansen

The authors sought to research on the perception of the use of formal services by elderly people in the rural areas. Case studies on elderly conducted in Minnesota and Denmark revealed that the Danish people viewed the use of formal services favorably. They saw that in choosing the formal services they could use, it gave them independence and decision making power. The Americans however viewed informal services negatively.

Formal services are perceived to be used when the individual’s informal network of family, friends and relatives have failed to support the elderly adequately. The elderly therefore tend to turn to the informal network first. They see the use of formal services as the loss of independence. The Danish links however with the formal service providers however were not as close or strong as the American links, for those who sought for formal services.

An Organization for the Elderly, by the Elderly: A Senior Center in the United States, Yohko Tsuji

The author sought to investigate how elderly people in the Lake District Senior Centre dealt with the culture. In America the elderly find themselves in a cultural dilemma since the dominant American cultural value are based on the pillars of independence, productivity and strength. The centre has gone against the societal norms that the elderly should be disengaged or isolated. The centre has shown otherwise, the day to day running of activities is carried out by the elderliness.

The board of directors and other committees that is involved in decision making is also mostly composed of the elderly. The elderly also self-finance themselves as a third of the budget is financed by the elders. During the day, there are workshops, seminars, group meetings of a recreational and educational nature. The elderly have a system of social network, exchange and support. They have learnt to assimilate the American culture in their everyday lives.

History, Community Context and the Perception of Old Age in a Rural Irish Town, Jeanette Dickerson-Putman

The author interviewed several people in Clifden and Blessington, Ireland to hear their perception of old age. The respondents viewed old age as the signal or signs of declining health and the lack of the ability to continue contributing to the society in terms of work due to frailty. The social life of the individual starts declining and even dies. Soon, the aged need a great support network in order to make it in life. The respondents noted that in old age, the people had a certain level of material security.

The government gave the old people good pension and other benefits. If the elderly did not have access to money, they would have a difficult old age. In terms of support, the family did not play a central role in taking care of the aged rather it was the close friends and confidants that took physical care of the individual. If the aged experience the loss of their spouses or had strained relationships with their children, they would receive very little emotional support.

The Irish respondents noted that in old age, one experienced contentment, peace, rest and a relaxed mind. However, at the old age, a downside was that there were individuals who experienced high levels of loneliness and bitterness. The project showed what the people considered as successful and unsuccessful aging.

Uncle Ed, Super Runner and the Fry Cook: Old Men on the Street, Jay Sokolovsky and Carl Cohen

The authors conducted a study in the New York, the Bowery, on the survival and experiences of the aging men in the streets. The society focuses on the plight of the homeless mainly in the winter however in spring, it stops being hot news. The homeless on the streets are still there and going through various hardships.

They found out that the hardships of living in the streets had the greatest impact on the old men who were more than 50 years and above. These were men who had lived on the streets for years, some even decades. They conducted case studies on three elderly homeless Their fieldwork results showed that despite the poverty experienced by the men on the streets they shared food, cash and cigarettes.

They also shared tips on how to survive on the streets. The friendship developed on the street served as a survival tactic. The old homeless people took to constant drinking to deal with the trauma of homelessness that brings desperation and hopelessness. They will continue drinking even if it endangers their health.

One Thousand Points of Blight: Old, Female and Homeless in New York City, Jay Sokolovsky

There was a study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health on the experiences of homeless women on the streets of America. The author participated in the study and highlights a session he had with an elderly woman in her sixties in a women’s shelter located in the U.S Army armory. The elderly American male is able to handle the public shelters better than the female due to their experiences in jail, military and boarding houses.

The elderly female experiences a cultural and psychological trauma as she tries to adjust to the shelter environment. The conditions are rough as it is an environment where the toughest and abrasive survive. They have exhausted their kin resources. There is a perception that the number of homeless women has been decreasing however it is not true. The count has been decreasing since they shun the big shelters preferring the streets, small charity shelters and drop in shelters. The absolute count has been increasing.

Between Humans and Ghosts: The Decrepit Elderly in a Polynesian Society, Judith C. Barker

The author carries out research on the treatment that was given to elderly people in the Polynesian society. In the society, the old people were perceived to be mediators of the people between the world and the next world. They were regarded as being spiritually higher and they assumed the roles of witchdoctors and priests. The number of the elderly people was not high since the people used to die around the age of 35.

The people become mature and died quickly as they were living in very harsh environments. However, at that time they still existed non-supportive attitudes towards the people who had reached the critical area of their life. Since, they were no longer able to contribute to the society or look after themselves, they were perceived to be useless or already dead. There were reports that some of them were treated brutally.

They were seen to be a burden in the society. There was neglect of the old people who were physically impaired and it was acceptable in the society. There was a discrepancy in the status of older people in good health and the ones who were too weak to take care of themselves. Families did not call the doctors or nurses to treat the infected sores and painful joints of frail elders.

Dementia in Cultural Context: Development and Decline of a Caregiver Support Group in a Latin Population, J. Neil Henderson

The article highlights the phases that a caregiver support group went through in a Latin population. The author came up with a plan for the implementation of an Alzheimer disease support group for ethnic communities after observing that the existing groups in place had a predominantly white population.

The group was started in 1986. The group received funding from the government and the caregivers went through a thorough training on dementia and related diseases. Six months later, the aged in Latino community had joined the group and there was an aggressive system of follow up and support by the caregivers.

The group however died after two years. They could not support themselves after the project funding was cut off. The project showed the challenges faced by ethnic support groups since the project died due to lack of funds, overburdened care givers, the volunteer nature of the group and the lack of support by private and public organizations.

Aging, Disability and Ethnicity: An African-American Woman’s Story , Monika Deppen-Wood, Mark Luborsky and Jessica Scheer

The author interviewed an African-American woman to find out how she was dealing with old age and disability and whether her ethnicity aided her in any way in dealing with the challenges in old age. She relied heavily on her family members to take care of her and provide for her financially which they did. From her ethnicity she drew great courage to overcome the challenges in life. The transition stage in accepting her role as a nourisher, advisor and disciplinarian to her children was okay. She is regarded highly by her family members and considered a wise woman.

Long-Term Care and the Disabled Elderly in Urban China, Charlotte Ikels

The author conducted a research in China on the perception of dementia in old people and the long-term care of these individuals. He noted that in some Asian cultures such as India, Japan and Polynesia, dementia did not have an alarming impact on the family members.

The individual is seen as though he is cutting links with the natural world and connecting with the supernatural world. In the western world, however, the emphasis of the medical aspects of the disease made people not appreciate the way the cultural and social factors would mediate the impact of the disease.

In China, they had a culture of promoting the taking care of the elderly by the family. The children and relatives were relied on to take care of their parents and grandparents. The elderly parents lived close to the children’s residence. Overall the elders who were disabled were well taken care in the Chinese culture.

Liminality in an American Nursing Home: The Endless Transition, Renee Rose Shield

The author conducted a study in an American nursing home to investigate the experiences of the old people in the nursing homes. She observed the residents and the staff as they conducted their daily activities. She had the perception that the elderly in the nursing home were a close knit community sharing jokes and stories on the events in their lives.

They would tell each other of the engagements, weddings and birth experiences in their life. However she discovered it was not so. Life in the nursing home was marked by loneliness and dependencies. It was a solitary transition for the elderly.

The community did not support and rally around them unlike other stages in life. The residents were provided with the best medical and nursing care however they still faced the last days of their lives with inadequate emotional support, isolated from the world. She found that the society was unwilling to involve the elderly in opportunities to contribute to society, treating them like children. The society, fearful of death, is quick to transfer the care of the elderly to an institution instead of providing the warmth and support of a community.

Understanding Life Backwards, Joel Savishinsky

The author interviewed individuals who had just retired in order to find out how they were adjusting to life after retirement. He found out that the identities that individuals had before retirement affected their attitudes to retirement and their self esteem.

These identities affected the rate at which the individual would adjust to life after retirement. Even though the study revealed that there was no great impact of gender differences on the rate of adjustment, the individual’s identity and social background influenced the adjustment rate differently in the men and women.


On review of the mentioned articles, it is clear there is a great need in most societies to come up with better structures both in the informal and formal structures to take care of the elderly. The old people people play an important role as Jane Peterson in her article. They represent the wise in the community who are able to advise the younger generations on handling the bittersweet experiences in life. It is not good for family members to neglect taking care of them.

The aged experience high levels of loneliness, depression and isolation as they try to adjust to this new phase in their life where they have to be taken care of and depend financially on their children. The society should especially follow up on the homeless who are elderly. They have exhausted their kin resources and in their age cannot handle the harsh difficulties of life in the streets.


Luborsky, M & Rubinstein, R(1997) The Dynamics of Ethnic Identity and Bereavement among Older Widowers. In The Cultural Context of Aging: Worldwide Perspectives, edited by Jay Solovosky. 2nd Edition. Westport, Corn: Bergin and Garvey.

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