Aged Care

Language barriers linked to aggression in immigrants with dementia


A new study has found that immigrants living with dementia in nursing homes were more likely to show aggressive behaviour compared to people born in Australia. The researchers think this might be partly due to language barriers and cultural differences.

According to a recent study by Edith Cowan University (ECU) in collaboration with The Dementia Centre, HammondCare, immigrants living with dementia may be more likely to experience agitation and aggression compared to those born in the country they now reside in.

The study, conducted by researchers from ECU’s Centre for Research in Aged Care and HammondCare’s The Dementia Centre, aimed to understand how cultural backgrounds influence the behaviours and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD) in individuals living in residential aged care homes.

Over 400,000 Australians currently have dementia. By 2058, experts believe over 800,000 people will have the disease; at least half of all nursing home residents have dementia. About 30% of residents were born overseas, and 9% prefer speaking a language other than English.

The findings revealed that immigrants were more prone to exhibiting agitation or aggression, while non-immigrants were more likely to experience hallucinations and delusions.

Lead researcher Pelden Chejor highlighted the growing prevalence of dementia in Australia, particularly among immigrants. Chejor emphasised that factors such as trauma, low literacy and socioeconomic status could contribute to a higher risk of dementia among immigrant populations.

The study found that language barriers and cultural considerations significantly contributed to BPSD for non-English-speaking immigrants, but not for English-speaking immigrants. Communication difficulties were identified as a key factor driving the severity of agitation or aggression, especially among non-English-speaking immigrants.

Chejor stressed the importance of raising awareness and providing education on the impact of culture and language in managing BPSD among individuals with dementia. He also called for further research to explore factors such as length of stay in Australia and English language proficiency among immigrant groups.

Marie Alford, Head of DSA, echoed the significance of understanding the cultural backgrounds and preferences of individuals with dementia. “Communicating effectively with the person living with dementia, and taking the time to know them, including their language background and culture, is essential,” Alford said.

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