Research Snapshot: Mental health care of older adults

Mental health care of older adults: Does cultural competence matter?

What you need to know

By 2050, it is estimated that nearly 35% of older adults in the United States will be from a racial or ethnic minority group. The current evidence has found that a lack of culturally competent medical and mental health care leads to poorer outcomes, less commitment to care plan recommendations and greater differences among racial and ethnic minority groups. Psychiatric disorders in older adults can lead to poorer medical outcomes and are associated with increased health care resource utilization, longer hospital stays and higher medical costs. In addition, those individuals from racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases, including mental health illnesses such as depression and anxiety.

Overall, the authors identified that minority and underserved groups of seniors are known to suffer from lower health literacy, limited English proficiency and poorer health care outcomes. They found that there is evidence that cultural competence training improves provider awareness of the differences and cultural needs of older adults. The authors also found trends that suggest culturally competent care improves patient satisfaction and perceptions of healthcare providers.

What is this research about?

The authors focused on cultural competency and health literacy in the mental health care of older adults. They defined several concepts related to cultural competency, including:

The authors found that health literacy rates are lower among minority, poor and undereducated individuals and most often among the elderly, where low health literacy is associated with poor health status and higher mortality rates.

What did the researchers do?

The authors reviewed the current literature on culturally competent mental health care for older adults in the United States. The literature review focuses on a minority group of seniors and seniors not fluent in English who are found to have multiple health disparities, including higher incidence and prevalence of various mental health conditions.

What did the researchers find?

From the literature review, the authors summarized their findings into four categories as follows:   

Overall, the authors found that there is evidence that cultural competence training improves provider awareness of the disparities and cultural needs of a given target population. They also found trends suggesting that culturally competent care improves patient satisfaction and perceptions of healthcare providers.

Limitations of the research

No limitations identified by the authors.

How can you use this research?

The authors suggest that healthcare providers and organizations foster a culturally competent environment of care by using many of the government and professional resources available on cultural competence and health literacy. Several best practices and models that focus on patient outcomes have been identified and are currently in the development and implementation stages. However, there is still a need for research on identifying the features of these models and to define the degree to which culturally competent care is needed to reduce disparities and improve patient outcomes.  

About the researchers

Maria D. Llorente1 and Margaret Valverde2

  1. Department of Veterans Affairs, Georgetown University School of Medicine, Washington, DC, U.S.A.
  2. George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, DC, U.S.A.

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