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Cultural and Spiritual Sensitivity Resources for Caregivers of Older Adults

This article was first published By on Saturday 5th December 2015

Providing care for patients is about more than treating the body. It also involves treating the mind and spirit. And while the former may be relatively straightforward, the latter can be both complex and sensitive -- particularly when you factor in the diversity of cultures and spiritual beliefs among patients. Let's take a closer look at the imperative of cultural sensitivity, along with what caregivers need to know to fulfill their responsibility to treat the "whole" patient.

Understanding Patient Rights

Health care's oldest accrediting body, the Joint Commission, holds health care providers accountable for upholding patient rights. Included in this decree is the need by caregivers not only to identify "patient cultural, religious, or spiritual beliefs and practices that influence care," but also to accommodate each of these throughout the care continuum, including during end-of-life care. Why? Because these factors can directly impact not only how patients and their families perceive a particular illness, but may also guide their attitudes about treatment.

Best Practices and Recommended Protocols

While there's no universal protocol or one-size-fits-all approach for promoting cultural and spiritual sensitivity, the Joint Commission has set forth a "roadmap" of recommended protocols and best practices. In all cases, open lines of communication are a critical part of the process.

Caregivers, health care providers, and administrative staff alike are encouraged to ask patients about any cultural, religious or spiritual aspects of their lives which may influence their care, along with whether they perceive the hospital environment as welcoming to their particular beliefs. Of course, it's not simply enough to ask these questions. Providers must also be prepared to offer a mutually agreeable response.

Patient needs are far more than physical

Other things caregivers can do to acknowledge and address cultural, religious, and spiritual beliefs include respecting modesty and privacy needs; managing dietary restrictions; incorporating complementary or alternative medicine techniques if used by the patient; consulting with a professional chaplain to identify relevant coping resources; and/or accommodating a patient's prayer space and scheduling needs.

Noting these needs in the patient's medical record, along with communicating this information to other members of the healthcare team, is also a vital part of the process.

While there's no way to know and understand everything about every culture, adopting these practices can help caregivers best meet the needs of culturally diverse patients and their families. Additionally, there are culture-specific sensitivity training resources available, such as's "Cultural Sensitivity Training for Caregivers of Jewish Seniors" and "A Caregiver's Guide and More in Caring for Jewish Seniors." Click here to see all videos available in this series.

Ultimately, the only way to know with certainty what a patient needs is to ask. It is in asking the right questions -- and allowing the patient's responses to guide care and treatment -- that elder caregivers can position themselves to best fulfill not only the Joint Commission's mandate, but their own personal responsibilities to meeting the standard of care. offers a large library of free videos for caregivers of older adults, covering topics pertaining to senior care. Whether you are a healthcare professional or a family caregiver, if you are caring for an older adult we know that you will find an essential learning and guidance tool for all of your caregiver training needs. For more useful information for caregivers,access our database of free online caregiver videos today.

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