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If you and your family members decide senior living is the best option for you, then several factors need to be discussed. Besides choosing the type of senior living facility that best suits your needs, you will also need to identify whether there’s a language barrier that may affect access to care.

English is not the first language spoken by many older adults. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 60 million U.S. residents speak a language other than English at home.1 They may be able to speak English, but many may not feel comfortable conversing in it on a daily basis — especially when communicating about medical needs.

Studies suggest that implementing language-assistance services and more cultural competency training for care providers can help significantly reduce language barriers and improve the quality of health care for older adults with limited English proficiency.2 That’s why language-specific senior living options and culturally competent care exist.3 Facilities recognize the need to make seniors feel comfortable in any environment they choose.

Let’s take a look at how language barriers can affect senior living and why finding a facility that caters to a variety of languages is important to senior wellness.

Quick Tip: Visit our guides to Korean, Chinese, and Spanish senior living to learn more about language-specific care.

How Language Barriers Affect Senior Living

Entering a new living environment can be intimidating and daunting for older adults as they adapt to new surroundings and meet new people. Add a language barrier, and the dynamic shifts greatly. A language barrier can impact the following areas of senior living:

  • Medical care. Doctors and nurses on staff will be aware of your medical needs, but communicating problems and new needs that arise can become difficult. Many facilities can bring in translators to help, but they may not be present during an emergency. In these instances, language barriers can become life-threatening.
  • Language barriers and dementia. Staff at some facilities are trained to deal with the challenges that come with memory loss and dementia, but they may not be fluent in their patients’ native languages. That can pose great problems when it comes to care and safety.
  • Loneliness and depression. If you cannot communicate with others, then you may be more likely to feel depressed or lonely. Many senior living facilities and communities can be great places to meet new people, but that benefit becomes a challenge if you cannot communicate comfortably.

Did You Know: Video chatting is an excellent tool to combat senior isolation and check in on family and friends who live far away. Read our step-by-step guide to using FaceTime and other video-chat apps in your daily interactions with loved ones.  

Finding a Senior Living Facility That Caters to a Specific Language

Since language barriers at senior living communities can lead to serious problems, finding a facility that caters to your language is important for your well-being. Not only can you communicate easier, but you also may find other perks in these facilities that cater to specific languages.

  • Medical benefits. When the language barrier is removed, residents and staff can talk easily about medical care. In an emergency, a patient can express their concerns, ask questions, and get the immediate care they need. When there are no language barriers, residents can feel more comfortable that their medical needs are being met.
  • Cultural benefits. Many language-specific senior living facilities cater to cultural needs. Staff at these communities are familiar with the customs associated with the culture and will abide by them. This also helps residents feel more comfortable.
  • Religious benefits. If certain religions are common or associated with the primary language spoken at the senior living facility, then religious services are also often offered. That can include prayer groups and religious services in a particular language.
  • Entertainment benefits. Many senior living facilities provide entertainment for residents to enjoy in their preferred language. That may include cultural musical programs, speakers, and dancers. This type of entertainment can also foster communication and friendships among residents.
  • Food and diet benefits. Many senior living facilities that cater to a certain language also incorporate foods that residents may prefer. Traditional Hispanic dishes may be served in Spanish-speaking facilities, while Asian food may be served at Japanese or Korean facilities.
  • Activity benefits. Activities can help older adults make new friends and find shared interests through various hobbies and arts-and-crafts programs. Many senior living communities incorporate diverse faith-based activities or help residents celebrate festivals and holidays through fun and educational activities.

Did You Know: In addition to language-specific senior facilities, many assisted living and retirement communities offer faith-based care. Check out our faith-based senior care and assisted living guide

The benefits of language-specific senior living go far beyond the words that are spoken. Better communication is the priority, but language-specific senior living can also improve the quality of life for older adults.

Written By

Jeff Hoyt

Editor in Chief

Since graduating from Harvard with an honors degree in Statistics, Jeff has been creating content in print, online, and on television. Much of his work has been dedicated to informing seniors on how to live better lives. As Editor-in-Chief of the personal… Learn More About Jeff Hoyt

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