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Angel: Challenge of caring for an aging Latino population

Austin American Statesman

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

By: Jacqueline Angel

Longevity is clearly a blessing, but it presents the elderly and their children with practical problems. Preparing for a time when our parents are not able to get around as well as they used to is more important today than it has ever been.

People of all ethnicities are living longer than ever, and Latinos are part of that trend. Life is much different for Latino families than it was at the beginning of the 20th century, and that change forges a basic question: Who will care for elderly parents?

Old age for Latinos traditionally has been a different experience than it is for other groups. The model of extended families living together or in close proximity, with grandparents helping to care for their children's children and then being taken care of themselves as they needed assistance in old age, is still the desired model for Hispanics. Family is central to Latino cultural identity, and although grown children might wish to keep their elders at home, this might not always be possible.

The personal and financial burdens of caring for those with severe health and mobility problems are daunting, and institutionalized care for the elderly has become the norm in Mexico and the United States.

Not so long ago, developing countries like Mexico were faced primarily with health and social issues related to large populations of young people, while wealthy countries like the United States faced falling birth rates and the decline in the working-age population. Over the coming three decades, countries such as Brazil, Chile and Mexico will see the oldest part of their population at least double. This new demographic will have a significant effect on those countries' health care systems.

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