Do Cultural Differences Influence Care Decisions?


Cultural differences affect nearly every aspect of life, from marriage to food. As it turns out, cultural differences can also influence the way families make decisions about health care.

All cultures have developed systems of beliefs to explain the cause of illness, how illness can be cured or treated, and who should be involved in the health care process. In other words, every culture has beliefs about health, disease, treatment, and health care providers.

The Influence of Culture on Health Care Decisions

Culture plays a huge role in medical interactions. It influences how an individual might view an illness or treatment, for example, and affects how a physician should address an older patient. Culture may also affect the decision-making process. Cultural beliefs can affect how a patient will seek care and from whom, how he or she will manage self-care, how he will make health choices, and how she might respond to a specific therapy. Cultural issues play a key role in compliance, which is a person’s willingness to adhere to the doctor’s recommendations.

Culture influences healthcare at all levels, including communications and interactions with doctors and nurses, health disparities, health care outcomes, and even the illness experience itself. People in some cultures believe illness is the will of a higher power, and may be more reluctant to receive health care.

While many people of a culture hold common beliefs, practices and institutions, there can be many variations between individuals. Hispanics from several nations share a strong heritage that includes religion and family, but each subgroup of the Hispanic population may have its own cultural customs and beliefs. Subgroups may have a unique use of language, family roles, religion and spirituality, definition of illness, and the use of healing and treatment practices.

Some from Hispanic cultures and other cultures may even believe in folk illnesses, such as the “Evil Eye” or Mal de Ojo that can heat the blood of the recipient to cause vomiting and diarrhea. While most Hispanics use primary care physicians and other cosmopolitan sources of health care, some still prefer home remedies as suggested by a folk healer or curandero.

Culture and Communication

Literacy and language barriers may play a role in poor communication between doctors and patients from different cultures. The communication gap can prevent some seniors and families from getting the health information they need to make informed decisions. They may not know where to access information in another language, or they may not know how to find a health care provider that speaks the language.

Non-verbal cultural differences, such as head of household responsibilities or rules about making eye contact, are also a factor. For example, the oldest male of an Asian-Pacific Islander family is often the decision-maker and spokesperson, so doctors would talk to the eldest male about health care decisions instead of the patient.

Many older Hispanic individuals do not appreciate over-familiarity early in a relationship; they may respond with silence and non-compliance. Older adults from many cultures may not make direct eye contact with those they do not know well.

The language barrier can also contribute to high levels of caregiver stress.

Culture and Family Caregiving

The family unit is basic to all societal interactions in the Hispanic culture. In the Hispanic culture, family units are usually intergenerational households that provide support and a role for every family member. Grandparents typically cook meals, provide childcare, and share their wisdom, while parents work and manage the household. Informal family caregivers are the norm, with older children and young adults providing age-related assistance to aging family matriarchs and patriarchs. In these family units, younger family members provide loving care that allows older adults to age within the home.

While family members from all cultures gain satisfaction from providing care to family members, the role is challenging in that caregivers often juggle work, children, and caring for aging parents. With so much going on, caregivers often need all the support they can get.

While family caregiving is the norm in the Hispanic community and in other cultures, it is not always a viable option. Some older individuals may not have family living nearby, for example, or the family may be overwhelmed with children or other responsibilities.

In these cases, it is essential to find a comfortable place to live where people respect cultural differences that can influence health care decisions. Lake Park is a retirement community in Oakland, CA, where an extraordinary collection of diverse residents enjoys a culturally rich and fulfilling lifestyle. Lake Park is a full-service retirement community that provides the highest caliber of care. For more information, contact us today.