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Latinos caring for their elders: En la casa con los abuelos

Sandy Huffaker, The WSJ

Sandy Huffaker, The WSJ

It is clear and evident that for Latinos, family is number one.  For many, including myself, growing up with cousins, second cousins, grandparents, tios y tias is the norm; every holiday and birthday is celebrated together  and you even get together for no particular reason, rather just to be together.

Given this, it is not uncommon for Latino immigrants and, though less, some Latino Americans to live in multi-generational homes. The norm for many Latino families is to live in a household with not only a ‘nuclear’ family, but also includes grandparents or other relatives. Living situations are various and fluid, changing at times of economic stability or instability, births and deaths, and overall family wellbeing answering the  question, “pues que es mejor para la familia?”.

In my own experience, especially upon first immigrating to this country and in childhood, the household consisted of parents, siblings, grandparents and at times also a cousin or two, an aunt or uncle, or even friends from the motherland. And as each individual, each family became more established, the household members changed; still though, the abuelos were always with us.

They were our caretakers while mama y papa went to work and ESL classes at night, and second jobs. They helped with after school activities and bed time routines for us kids, dinner preparation for the family and late night conversation with our parents and adults. Los abuelos were truly instrumental for our family.

But what happens now that us kids are grown and having households and families of our own? Is it really in the best interest of la familia to keep the grandparents home as they age, encounter common elder issues, and move to later stages of life, such as illness and death?

These are critical questions to answer, for all families, especially as the 65 and older population is steadily increasing and will likely make up one-fifth of the overall population by 2030. Studies show that various ethnic populations prefer home care for their elderly and aging however this is higher and more common for Latinos; specifically 80% for whites, 82% for African Americans, and 88% for Latinos. Furthermore, the national Alliance for Care Giving and AARP have found that Latino caregivers are more likely to live with the person they are caring for in comparison to whites (34% vs 22%).

I know the hardship and cultural challenge it presents for us Latinos to even think of putting abuelo or abuela in a (nursing or assited living) home other than our own. In my family’s experience, the situation of coming to terms with an aging grandparent with chronic debilitating conditions such as diabetes and dementia  was a long process, much like the cycle of grieving.

At first the family was in denial that abuela was not her same self anymore; then the anger and sadness about her debilitating mind followed by bargaining with each other, siblings, abuleo and doctors over her care. The next stage, depression easily sets in, with day to day circumstances of home care for abuela combined with increasing family conflict. At last, acceptance comes and though it’s not a relief, it is promising as having reached this stage, la familia can come to terms with abuela’s condition, prognoses and overall well being.

It is not until then that caregivers, members of the family can truly ask not “que es mejor para la familia?” but instead “que es mejor para abuela/o?”.  And though this may mean breaking up the family unit, putting nuestra cultura aside by not continuing to care for one of own at home, it gives that honored elder in the family a chance to receive specialized care, routine medical check ups and services which ultimately increase quality of life. Y eso, cuenta!


By Being Latino Contributor Claudia Sermeño. Claudia is a first generation Salvadoran-American educator, counselor, and mentor living in Orange County, CA. She can be followed @ClaudiaSermeno.


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Being Latino contributors consists of individuals and partner organizations. They join us in our goal of providing our audience with a communication platform designed to educate, entertain and connect all peoples across the global Latino spectrum. Together we aim to break down barriers and foster unity and empowerment through informative, thought-provoking dialogue and exchanging of ideas. Giving a unified voice to the multitude of communities that identify with the multidimensional culture that is Latino.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

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