Cultural Sensitivity in Nursing Homes

Alleged incidents of abuse, neglect, and mistreatment in long-term care facilities have been frequently reported. Cultural differences are a source and can impact care delivery. And the development of culturally sensitive programs can help bridge differences, positively impact care, and lead to increased satisfaction. Let's look at some of the issues impacting cultural sensitivity in long-term care.

A nursing home nurse and her patients sharing tea
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Language Barriers

Language barriers can impact the ability to provide care and understand signs and symptoms of physical or mental decline. Staff assignments that include consistent assignment are important.

Residents should be screened for their ability to speak and/or understand English so that appropriate care measures can be developed.

This works where employees are concerned as well.

Cultural Assimilation

Cultural assimilation can become complicated if the individual can't control his or her life choices and decisions. This can cause extreme anxiety, frustration, and depression in individuals. Staff can become frustrated if individuals are unwilling to cooperate with care as a result of these fears and anxieties.

When residents feel uncomfortable with their surroundings because of language barriers or differences in social norms, they can feel threatened by different and strange-seeming mannerisms. For example, West Indian cultures often speak in loud voices. Asian caregivers are often reserved and might not appear to be as personally supportive.


Privacy is a significant issue for many cultures. For Asian families exposing incidents of abuse, neglect, or mistreatment outside of the family circle is often considered "taboo."

Middle Eastern families are very protective of women. Female purity is closely aligned with family honor; therefore, Middle Eastern men will go to great lengths to ensure that women are not "exposed" in a manner that might cause shame to them or their families. Male nurses and aides should never be assigned to assist Middle Eastern women with personal hygiene or with treatments involving "private" parts of their bodies.

Cultural Diversity as an Asset

Incorporating cultural themes, traditions, and customs into daily programming allow residents and staff to experience both their own and other cultures thereby contributing to a sense of community in the facility.

Offering traditional foods, accommodating, dress, adhering to daily rituals and traditional customs–all of these can play a role in culture change.

Just as there are resident and family councils, some nursing homes have started cultural councils that explore cultural differences while helping residents and staff to discover how much they are alike. By celebrating the various cultural traditions, staff and residents are given the chance to understand and appreciate the positive contributions different cultures make to the environment.

Instituting a language program, developing a diverse reading collection, inviting volunteers from various ethnic organizations to serve as guest lecturers are still more ways to promote cultural similarities and appreciation.

Embracing cultural diversity as an asset can help a nursing or assisted living facility enhance care, cut down on abuse and neglect, and avoid costly damages while enhancing the reputation of the organization.

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