New Research Shows Ethnicity Impacts Grieving

Loved ones of Alzheimer’s patients may experience different emotional reactions dependent on their racial and ethnic backgrounds, according to new research from the University of Michigan. The study, led by James McNally of the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research, found significant differences among blacks, whites, and Hispanics in terms of both grieving and caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is unique, according to McNally, because loved ones often begin the grieving process long before the person’s actual physical death. This is due to the debilitating aspects of this disease, which can cause patients to be emotionally and mentally absent prior to their bodies shutting down.

Previous research has focused on emotional response and grieving based on gender and relationship to the patient, but this is the first study to look into racial and ethnic differences. This insight is valuable, because it allows advocacy groups and other caregiver resources to tailor support services to a family’s individual needs, resulting in better outcomes. caregiver stress

There are a few key findings from the study:

  • Whites and Hispanics are three to five times more likely to report a sense of relief following a loved one’s death.
  • Whites are two times more likely to experience emotional acceptance at a loved one’s death.
  • White caregivers are more likely than both blacks or Hispanics to report feelings of anger towards a deceased loved one. Hispanics are least likely to report these emotions.

The study accounted for variations based on gender and relationship to the patient, but still found significant differences between ethnic groups. Findings also concurred with previous related research. For example, Hispanic families have been found to have  a tight family support network, consistent with current findings that Hispanics are less likely to accept a death and least likely to experience feelings of anger towards the deceased. Also, research shows that blacks tend to have more stressors in their lives than other ethnic groups, fitting with this study’s findings that blacks don’t tend to experience emotional relief following a loved one’s death.

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