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Language Barriers among immigrants suffering from dementia leads to increased aggression, ECU Study Reveals

A new study by Edith Cowan University (ECU) and The Dementia Centre, HammondCare, found that immigrants with dementia might get more upset and aggressive than people who were born in the same country they're living in. This means that when someone from another country is experiencing memory loss and confusion (dementia), they might show more signs of being upset or getting mad compared to people who were born in the same place they are now.

The study aimed to investigate how people's cultural backgrounds may impact their behaviours and psychological symptoms of dementia, such as agitation or aggression. Specifically, the research focused on immigrants and non-immigrants who are living with dementia in residential aged care homes and receiving support from Dementia Support Australia (DSA) programs.

The study found that immigrants were more likely to exhibit agitation or aggression, while non-immigrants were more prone to experiencing hallucinations and delusions. The research highlighted that language barriers and cultural factors could be contributing to these differences in behaviour.

DSA, a free Australian government-funded dementia behaviour support program, has been instrumental in helping over 60,000 clients and 98% of the country's aged care homes since 2016.

Lead researcher Pelden Chejor highlighted the prevalence of dementia in Australia, projecting a doubling of the number by 2058. Chejor emphasised that over 31% of elderly residents were born overseas, with 9.2% preferring a language other than English. Notably, 21% of people living with dementia in residential aged care homes were immigrants from non-English-speaking countries.

Chejor and colleagues pointed out significant factors contributing to BPSD among non-English-speaking immigrants, including loneliness, boredom, language barriers, and cultural considerations. The study noted that communication difficulties were likely driving the higher severity of agitation or aggression, particularly for immigrants who did not speak English as their first language.

The research called for increased awareness and education on the impact of culture and language on individuals exhibiting BPSD in residential care. Chejor suggested that future research should explore factors like length of stay in Australia and English language proficiency to gain a deeper understanding of BPSD presentations in different immigrant groups.

Marie Alford, Head of DSA, emphasised the importance of understanding the individual's cultural background and experiences, including language, when responding to BPSD. Alford stressed the need for effective communication with people living with dementia, advocating for support without immediate pharmacological intervention in many cases.

The study sheds light on the challenges faced by immigrants with dementia, urging healthcare professionals and carers to consider cultural nuances and language preferences in dementia care strategies. Increased awareness and education, as suggested by the researchers, could pave the way for more effective management of symptoms in diverse populations.

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