Language Barriers and Long-Term Care Growing Concern

Language barriers adversely impact the quality of long-term health care. Most people speak English in the U.S., but many languages are spoken in the U.S., Canada, and the rest of the U.K.

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Language Barriers and Long-Term Care Growing Concern
6 Min Read June 5th, 2021 Updated:April 4th, 2022

Language barriers pose challenges for caregivers, care recipients, and their families in long-term care facilities and in-home care providers alike. 

English is the most prevalent language spoken in the United States; however, there are over 300 languages spoken in the U.S. today. Today, Spanish is by far the most prevalent non-English language, although that was not always the case. 

Many older adults living in long-term care facilities speak English as a second language or may not speak English at all. Plus, many caregivers have language barriers as well. 

The delivery of quality long-term health care services may be affected by these language barriers, which are expected to increase in the decades ahead. 

In the United Kingdom, 98% are the population are English speakers. However, especially in recent years, many other languages are now being spoken in the U.K. For example, English and French are the official languages in Canada, in addition to many other languages that are actually being spoken in the country. 

In Australia, more than 250 Indigenous languages are being spoken, including 800 dialects! Communication and aging are global problems.

Now imagine an aging population and caregivers and other health care professionals attempting to communicate with people whose native language is not English. 

Language Barriers and Care

Ken Jenson, who runs the Colorado Springs Amada Senior Care, recalls a German woman who moved to the United States after getting married to her husband following the end of World War II. She learned English and perfectly raised her five children in the U.S. However, when she developed dementia, a communication problem developed with her caregivers. 

Ken Jenson"As she grew older her first and really only language was English. When she turned 88, she was hit with dementia. As it progressed, she began to speak German. She really had not spoken German since before leaving Germany over 70 years earlier. Before she passed, we had a caregiver who was fluent in German caring for her. It was a match made in Heaven. She had regressed to her Native tongue. It was so touching for the family as none of them spoke German. Amazing how all she could speak before she passed was German," Jenson said.

U.S. Hispanics Have Cultural and Language Concerns

When dealing with older people, language barriers can have an adverse effect on the quality of long-term health care. An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research study revealed that more than half of Hispanic adults had encountered communication barriers in the health care system. The language barrier requires them to turn to various formal and informal sources to help overcome these obstacles. 

Many Hispanics say they are concerned about the cultural accommodations of long-term care services available in their area. Less than half say it would be easy for them to find nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and home health aides that speak their language.

Language is not the only concern. Food is important to everyone, and less than 3 in 10 indicate they are concerned with the types of food that may be available in a long-term care facility. Another significant concern is respect for their religious or spiritual beliefs. Highly Roman Catholic, the availability of Mass and other spiritual concerns is a priority for many older Hispanics and their families. 

Regulations Help but Don't Apply to All

The law requires nursing homes and other long-term health care facilities to communicate medical information to residents in their native language. With the growing number of aging individuals where English is not their native language, facilities will find it increasingly challenging to handle language barriers.

In-home health providers are often less regulated as some providers are "off the grid" informal providers. However, most home health care agencies are making efforts to hire staff who speak other languages.  

If you have a parent or other loved one whose primary language is not English, you should consider potential language barriers when looking for care providers or facilities.

Availability of Religious Affiliated LTC Facilities

A person holding a crucifix.

Many religious-affiliated long-term care facilities are available that can meet the spiritual needs of your family member. There are secular facilities that often have religious services for many denominations available. 

Cognitive decline creates additional problems when it comes to communication and language barriers. When a person has dementia, language barriers pose a more prominent concern over time. Those people with dementia are more likely to have problems with comprehension of language, fluency of language, reading, and writing. Many revert to their native language, which will make a difficult situation worse. 

Better in-home health agencies and long-term care facilities make significant efforts to address language and cultural issues that can make the quality of care less desirable. However, the cost of quality long-term health care services is expensive and gets more costly over time.

Costs of Long-Term Care Services Increasing

Many people are still unaware that their health insurance, including Medicare and supplements, will not pay for most long-term care services and supports. Medicaid long-term care benefits are only available for people with little or no income and assets.

Long-term care expenses are your responsibility by either self-funding, family caregivers, or Long-Term Care Insurance. Since care is expensive and family members are usually unavailable for the demanding responsibility of being caregivers, Long-Term Care Insurance is generally considered a wise choice for many families. 

The LTC NEWS Cost of Care Calculator illustrates the magnitude of the problem. You can see the current and future costs where you live by clicking here.

LTC Insurance Can Be Empowering

Long-Term Care Insurance is not appropriate for everyone. If you have little savings and income, the necessity for insurance is not there since you may easily qualify for Medicaid. Certain pre-existing health problems can make obtaining coverage more difficult or impossible since LTC Insurance is medically underwritten. 

Experts suggest speaking with a licensed and qualified Long-Term Care Insurance specialist who works with the major companies. The specialist can advise you if coverage is appropriate and match your age, health, and family history with the right company to get the best coverage at the lowest cost. 

Find a trusted and experienced specialist by clicking here.

The financial costs and burdens associated with longevity will impact you, your family, your income and assets, your lifestyle, and your legacy. Concern for your choice of quality care is another consideration. 

LTC Insurance is an integral part of planning that should occur when you are younger, ideally in your 40s or 50s, when you still enjoy reasonably good health and premiums are at their lowest. There are many considerations, including access to quality care and communication and cultural considerations. When you own a policy, you are in control and avoid being dependent on others.

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About the Author

Linda is a freelance writer interested in retirement planning, health and aging.

LTC News Contributor Linda Kople

Linda Kople

Contributor since October 31st, 2017

Editor's Note

Preparing your family and finances for the future costs and burdens of aging is an essential part of retirement planning. Partnership policies are a big part of the equation. But Long-Term Care Insurance is more than just about money. 

Planning for long-term care is a cash flow and family problem. You don't need a plan that pays for every potential penny of cost as you will have income coming in from social security, a pension, or your savings. However, a specialist will design a plan, so you don't over-insure and spend more money than you need.

Get Expert Help in Planning

Experts recommend seeking the help of a qualified and experienced Long-Term Care Insurance specialist to help you find the right coverage. A specialist will match your age, health, and family history with the right coverage at the right price. 

Long-term care is a very specialized area, and few insurance agents and financial advisors have the expertise. Seek the help of a specialist who represents the top companies. Top specialists will often have over 500 clients with Long-Term Care Insurance, some in the thousands. This experience is necessary as every company has its own underwriting criteria. Plus, premiums can vary over 100% between insurance companies. 

A specialist will save you money, and you will have peace of mind knowing they are making the appropriate recommendations - Work With a Specialist | LTC News.

Planning Tools and Resources on LTC NEWS

You can find many tools and resources on LTC NEWS to assist you in your research for a planning solution or help your family find the appropriate care for a loved one at the time of crisis. 

To help you plan the costs and burdens of changing health and aging, LTC NEWS has put in place several resources, including:

Find all the resources on LTC NEWS - Resources for Long-Term Care Planning | LTC News.

Finding Quality Care for Mom or Dad

Start by reading our four guides -  

If they are lucky enough to own a Long-Term Care Insurance policy, be sure they use it. Sometimes families wait, thinking they can save the benefits for a rainy day. Waiting on using available Long-Term Care Insurance benefits is not a wise idea. 

Get Help in Filing a Long-Term Care Insurance Claim

Quality care obtained early will help provide a better quality of life and reduce the risk of a deep decline and facility care. If you need help in starting the process of a Long-Term Care Insurance claim, LTC NEWS can help.

LTC NEWS provides free assistance with no obligation to help you or a loved one complete the claims process with a Long-Term Care Insurance policy. We have teamed up with Amada Senior Care, who will do all the work, free with no obligation. 

Get help finding quality caregivers or long-term care facilities and get recommendations for a proper care plan, whether a person has a policy. - Filing a Long-Term Care Insurance Claim | LTC News

Benefits of Reverse Mortgages 

Today's reverse mortgages for those aged 62 and older could be an ideal resource to fund a Long-Term Care Insurance policy OR even provide money to pay for care if you, or a loved one, already needs help and assistance.  

Some people have much of their savings invested in their homes. With today's reverse mortgages, you can find ways to fund care solutions, care itself, even help with cash flow during your retirement. 

Learn more by asking questions to an expert. LTC NEWS columnist and host of the TV Show "62 Who Knew" will answer your questions regarding caregiving, aging, health, retirement planning, long-term care, and reverse mortgages. 

- Just "Ask Mike." - Reverse Mortgages | LTC News.

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You can write a story or ongoing column for LTC NEWS. You can write about many topics, including aging, caregiving, health, lifestyle, retirement planning, and long-term care, to name a few.

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