How stereotyping affects your residents

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Cleopatra Abdou, Ph.D.
Cleopatra Abdou, Ph.D.

Cultural competency training and increased diversity in the workforce may lead to better physical and mental health for your residents, according to new research.

Why? Because investigators say they may reduce the threat of stereotyping in healthcare settings, which among older adults is associated with poorer mental and physical health as well as the decreased likelihood of obtaining an influenza vaccination.

The study results, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found that older adults who felt vulnerable to being judged due to negative stereotypes related to age, weight, race, gender or social class were more likely to have hypertension or depression, feel dissatisfied with their care and less likely to access preventive care.

Cleopatra Abdou, Ph.D., and colleagues surveyed about 1,500 people as part of the U.S. Health and Retirement Study; their mean age was 65.9 years. More than 17% of respondents said they encountered some type of threat related to prejudice in healthcare settings; the most prevalent threats related to age and weight, both being reported by 8.3% of respondents. People who felt threatened based on several aspects of their identity were worse off, as far as health, than those who felt threatened based on just one aspect of their identity.

Well-intentioned public health campaigns can contribute to the issue, said Abdou, an assistant professor in the University of Southern California's Davis School of Gerontology and Department of Psychology. Campaigns about memory problems in older adults, for instance, can reinforce and magnify the negative lens through which older adults are commonly viewed in society, she said. “It's not that there aren't real health concerns in specific communities that we need to do more—much more—to address, but how we communicate about these concerns is key,” Abdou added.

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