Meeting the Care Needs of Residents in a Culturally Diverse Environment


Asian culture

You may be thinking: Why do I need to know about the different cultural backgrounds of residents? By becoming more aware and appreciative of the cultural differences among the residents, you will be better able to show respect for individual residents, provide assistance in ways that are culturally familiar to residents and develop positive relationships with residents.

Throughout our history, many people of many different backgrounds have come to live in the United States. Historically, a number of people have come from other parts of the world to make their home in the United States. There are people of different races. There are people practicing many different religions. Some speak a language other than English. Many have different beliefs, values, ways of communicating and ways of thinking based on their cultural background. In order to provide the best quality care and give everyone the respect they deserve, it is important to understand how culture affects the way we live our lives every day.

What is culture?

First, let’s take a closer look at the meaning of culture. Culture is a set of values, beliefs and behaviors. Culture is the “truths” that are accepted by members of the group. Most cultural rules are not written down. We learn them from other members of the group. Culture is like the air that we breathe. It is something that we do not think about directly. We take it for granted.

For example, in some cultures the older people are the most respected age group in society. Older people are valued for the experience and wisdom they have gained during their long lifetime. The place of honor in the family goes to the oldest person. Members of the family seek the advice of the older persons. Older people are proud of their age. This cultural belief is true in many Asian cultures like Chinese or Japanese cultures. Yet, in other cultures, youthfulness is valued more than older age. People try to stay young as long as they can. Hair coloring and plastic surgery may be used to maintain a youthful appearance. Older people are thought to be “out of touch.” Children hold the special place in the family. This belief is strongly held by many in the United States.

We also see some differences between cultures in terms of attitudes and behaviors related to caring for older adult members of families. In some Asian and Latino cultures, for example, when parents get older they typically move in with one of their children, who are expected to care for them. Such expectations are less common in the U.S. If a resident of a personal care home is relatively new to this country, he or she may find relocation to the personal care home to be especially stressful because this is a different living arrangement than that which older people in their homeland are accustomed.

Culture is very important because we tend to interpret other people’s behaviors through our own culture. We expect others to think and act the way people in our culture think and act. We even interpret their behavior through our own expectations. When people from a different culture act differently than people in our own culture, we may consider their behavior to be strange, inappropriate or even wrong. The important thing to remember is that differences in cultures are not good or bad; differences in cultures are not right or wrong. They are just different ways of doing and thinking. Direct care staff persons need to understand and be respectful of cultural differences.

elderly man and young woman

Examples of cultural differences

What are some cultural differences you might experience with personal care home residents? Many cultural differences are related to how we talk and listen. You have learned about the importance of good communication skills in earlier modules. Now we will learn about communication skills as they relate to cultural differences.

Eye contact:

One area is eye contact. Research has shown that when Americans talk to one another, they tend to look at each other directly in the eye. This sends the message that the other person is listening to you and is interested in what you have to say. It is a sign of respect. Yet, in some cultures looking directly in the eyes of another person may be a sign of disrespect. This is particularly true when the person is speaking to someone in a position of authority, such as a doctor, a nurse or a caregiver. Direct eye contact may be interpreted as being a challenge to one’s authority. Looking down or at the floor may be a way of showing respect for the person in authority. People from Latino cultures, such as Mexico and South America, may practice this cultural behavior. Therefore, when you are giving them instructions, they may not look you in the eye while you are talking. This may be a sign of respect for your authority.

In some Middle Eastern cultures, direct eye contact between a man and a woman is considered a sexual invitation. In general, direct eye contact should be avoided with Middle Easterners of the opposite sex.

Direct and indirect styles of communication:

The use of direct versus indirect styles of communication is another difference in cultures. Many Americans tend to use a direct style of communication. They tend to be open, honest, direct and precise. Assertiveness is respected. If you have a problem with someone or something, it is okay to speak directly about the problem and try to get it worked out. The belief is that trusting relationships are built on openness and honesty.

However, people in many cultures use an indirect style of communication. In these cultures, it is very important to avoid embarrassment for oneself and for the other person. Therefore, one may use a roundabout way to let the other person know there is a problem. This can be true for many people from Asian and Latino cultures. Rather than saying directly that there is a problem, the resident may hint at the problem. It will be important for you as a direct care staff person to pick up on the hint. If you are uncertain, it is best to ask questions to try to understand the message the resident is really trying to convey.

Use of the word “yes”:

Use of the word “yes” as an answer to a question can sometimes be tr