Online Program

“I don't have any complaints”: Meanings of health in aging for puerto rican adults in the mainland

Monday, November 4, 2013

Mariana Guzzardo, PhD, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Northeastern University, Boston, MA
Wallis Adams, MPH, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Northeastern University, Boston, MA
Irina Todorova, PhD, Department of Health Sciences, Northeastern University, Boston, MA
Luis Falcon, PhD, College of Fine Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences, University of Massachusetts, Lowell, MA
This study explores the meaning of health in aging for Puerto Rican adults in the Boston area. Puerto Ricans are the second largest Hispanic sub-group in the U.S. and live with clear health disparities. The Boston Puerto Rican Health Study is a longitudinal mixed-methods study (n=1357). We conducted in-depth interviews with a randomly selected sub-group of 20 participants, 10 men and 10 women, aged 49 to 76. The interviews were transcribed verbatim and translated into English. Through thematic analysis focusing on language and cultural meanings, we identified several interconnected themes about growing older, and the related meanings of body, health, and illness. Themes included: normalization of aging and symptoms of illness and disability; acceptance of the changing body and its limitations; being grateful for the health one has; aging as a socially connected process; a split between the aging body and the soul. For our participants, aging is experienced through the comparison of the U.S. mainland, characterized by high quality medical care and social isolation, with that of Puerto Rico, where there are fewer resources, but “warmer” social connections. The normalization of aging is associated with acceptance and tolerance of health problems, and a critical view of complaining. Health and illness in aging is defined within a social context through one's ability to interact with others, where aging should occur “in the arms of loved ones.” Practitioners need to be aware of varying culturally constructed understandings of aging and health in order to develop and implement appropriate programs of care.

Learning Areas:

Diversity and culture
Planning of health education strategies, interventions, and programs
Public health or related research
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
Describe older Puerto Ricans’ perceptions and culturally specific beliefs regarding their own aging and health. Identify ways in which Puerto Ricans may manage illness and disability related to old age. Formulate techniques for health care providers to provide culturally appropriate care based on differential meanings and experiences of aging and illness. Discuss how the findings of this study can be used to improve the cultural competency of care programs for Puerto Ricans living in Boston.

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have a doctorate in Human Development and Family Studies with a concentration in Adult Development and Aging. Research that I have conducted relates to service use among Puerto Rican elderly, and environmental resources for older adults with disabilities. Currently, I am a Postdoctoral Research Associate, working with a team of investigators on a project on psychosocial stress and cardio-vascular disease at the Center on Population Health and Health Disparities at Northeastern University.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.