Culture shapes our individual experiences, health, and the ways we seek support for health conditions we shoulder and that impact our loved ones. Given that, clinicians caring for patients across our increasingly diverse society must be nimble in how they deliver care and information, too.
“Given the differential impact dementia has on racial and ethnically diverse families, and even rural families, we can’t ignore how the social and cultural context in which they live influence the way they experience and live with dementia.”Ishan Williams, professor and assistant dean
But when it comes to supporting patients with dementia and their caregivers, appropriately tailored cultural support is seriously lacking. That’s a critical gap, says professor and assistant dean Ishan Williams, given the fact that non-whites suffer disproportionately from vascular problems and other conditions which lead to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
“Given the differential impact dementia has on racial and ethnically diverse families, and even rural families,” she said, “we can’t ignore how the social and cultural context in which they live influence the way they experience and live with dementia.”
Williams—who has developed and studied nurse- and physician-led interventions to support patients with mild cognitive impairment, dementia, and other chronic conditions, like Type 2 diabetes—has long known that race and ethnicity often drive what services and support these groups seek out and receive, which has everything to do with their quality of life and ability to flourish in the face of such chronic conditions. She underlined the imperative “to approach dementia services and support programs and interventions from a cultural perspective to ensure that individuals with dementia and their caregivers are included in providing input about how services are accessible and delivered to communities in a culturally sensitive way.”
>> Read "There is a huge disparity in diagnosing Alzheimer's in Black Americans" (The Hill)
Williams has led research focused on quality of life issues in older adults with dementia, managing Type 2 diabetes, and a study to develop a culturally tailored diabetes intervention for African Americans living in rural areas. Her interventions employ the use of Afrocentric cultural norms, active rather than didactic principles of adult learning, and philosophies of empowerment and problem solving. Too, she’s also collaborated on research focused on diverse communities’ use of advance directives, their end-of-life concerns, transitions between home, community and hospital settings, and how individuals with chronic conditions share information about their health issues on social media.
With colleagues from the Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Diverse Elders Coalition, Williams will be part of the BOLD Public Health Center of Excellence on Dementia Caregiving and UsAgainstAlzheimer's Center for Brain Health Equity webinar on June 30, "Public Health Considerations and Models for Cultural Adaptations in Dementia Caregiving."
They’ll discuss how to culturally tailor dementia supports and services, and the unique and pivotal role that culture plays in dementia caregiving and how to put these practices into action.
Williams is president of the Southern Gerontological Society, a John A. Hartford Foundation affiliate, a Victor W. Marshall fellow, and a Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America. At UVA, she leads the aging and research team of scholars.