This article was written by Maureen Sturzo, the Caregiver Homes Branch Manager for the Southeast Region in Massachusetts.

Our mission as Caregiver Homes is to support caregivers who are living with and providing care to elders and disabled adults in the community. The ways in which we do this can be challenging yet rewarding given language barriers, values and cultural differences. However, we know that to effectively support caregivers and their loved ones, establishing trust and a comfort level is helpful. Being aware of cultural differences among the various populations we serve enables us to create that trust and comfort more easily.

For example, in the early 1980's numerous Asian families settled in Lowell Massachusetts looking for better opportunities for themselves and their children. It is not uncommon to see several generations living together under one roof, pooling resources, to achieve a higher socioeconomic status. Presently the Merrimack branch has 39 Asian American families receiving support from our skilled clinical teams. Our care teams have learned a great deal by visiting and supporting these families in the community. Did you know that removing your shoes before entering the home of a Southeast Asian family is a sign of respect whereas strong eye contact with elders is viewed as disrespectful?

Cultural competence is a dynamic process. It is not merely completing a curriculum or training to become "culturally competent." Rather, cultural competence involves continual learning throughout one's personal life and profession. Definitions and orientations toward cultural competence remain complex, and contradictory at times. Much of the conflict exists knowing whether knowledge about traditions, cultural beliefs, norms, and values can be attained. What is clear but often forgotten is that mutual respect is the foundation for building healthy relationships in a multicultural world.