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Caregiving is especially challenging for Korean Americans

Research Activities, June 2009, No. 346

As the number of older Americans continues to grow, more families will be faced with the challenge of caring for elderly loved ones. While Korean-American families are no different in this regard, they are more likely to depend on family members as informal caregivers rather than rely on outside supportive care services, according to a new study.

Researchers conducted eight focus groups with first-generation, Korean-American adults over an 8-month period. Participants were all living with or providing care to a Korean-American relative or nonrelative aged 60 years or older. During the focus groups, the caregivers expressed a strong sense of duty to care for ill or frail family members, thereby upholding the traditional value of daughter/son devotion (filial piety) known as "hyo." This duty often competed with other life priorities within harsh immigrant life, such as working extremely long hours to survive in the United States. Participants found caregiving physically and psychologically demanding. All were ambivalent about using outside, formal services, which they viewed as a last resort.

The study also identified a number of ways health care services can be improved to meet the needs of an expanding Korean-American population. Barriers to optimal caregiving include language difficulties, unavailability of Korean food in nursing homes, and a lack of culturally acceptable alternatives. Many of the participants had significant difficulty communicating with mainstream health care providers. This made them especially afraid of placing the loved one in a nursing home.

Because nurses have the most contact with caregivers and the person receiving care, the researchers suggest that acquiring more knowledge about changing cultural norms can help nurses work with informal caregivers to reconcile traditional values with care demands. The researchers agree that more culturally appropriate support services are needed. The study was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS13779).

See "Experiences and challenges of informal caregiving for Korean immigrants," by Hae-Ra Han, Ph.D., R.N., Yun Jung Choi, Ph.D., R.N., Miyong T. Kim, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., and others, in the May 2008 Journal of Advanced Nursing 63(5), pp. 517-526.

Current as of June 2009
Internet Citation: Caregiving is especially challenging for Korean Americans: Research Activities, June 2009, No. 346. June 2009. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.