Assessing the mental health needs of older people

Black and minority ethnic communities


The proportion of people aged 65 and over among Britain 's minority ethnic population is growing and the specific needs of many minority groups are increasingly being identified. Minority ethnic communities may have higher rates of poor health than the host community, and poorer people and those less well placed to access health and social care will be more vulnerable.

Key research findings

For a more detailed account, see Research summary 6 (443kb PDF).

What you can do

Ideas from practice

Needs and barriers

Different communities may have specific difficulties. For instance, higher rates of high blood pressure and diabetes among African, Caribbean and Asian people increase the risk of vascular dementia in later life, while some ethnic groups appear particularly prone to depression in older age.

A recent study of the Asian community in north west Kent by Alzheimer's and Dementia Support Services and the Mental Health Foundation (40) researched the service-related needs of Asian older people with dementia, and the needs of their carers, and the understanding and awareness of dementia within the community.

Older people with mental health needs from black and minority ethnic communities face a number of potential barriers to effective assessment of their needs:

V. Seabrooke and A. Milne (2004) Culture and care in dementia: A study of the Asian community in north west Kent, London : Mental Health Foundation,

Case example

Mrs K, an Armenian who had met her husband in Paris, spoke fluent French and English until the last years of her life, when advancing dementia and progressive memory loss took away her acquired languages and left her unable to converse with her husband and children. This was devastating for her and her family.

An inspection of community care services for black and ethnic minority older people carried out by the Social Services Inspectorate in 1998 (42) found that although procedures existed for involving black elders in their assessments and developing their care plans, this practice was dependent upon the knowledge and skill of individual workers. Without appropriate training, knowledge and skills, some white staff did not have the confidence to make judgements about the contribution of religion and culture in the assessment of older people. In some cases staff still took the view that black and ethnic minority families 'look after their own', and there was a danger that white ethnocentric values resulted in inappropriate assessments.

Further information

The Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 places a general duty on all public authorities to promote race equality and to make this aim explicit in their policies, practices and procedures. For more information on the legal and policy context, see section 8.

The Department of Health has produced practice guidance for councils with social services responsibilities to help them develop services for minority ethnic older people. (38)

A report by The Royal College of Psychiatrists (39) suggests that a key method of improving access to services for minority ethnic elders is through their GPs, and recommends joint meetings between GPs and voluntary groups to achieve this.

Age Concern England hosts a Black and Minority Ethnic Elders Forum promotes the interests of black and minority ethnic elders, and produces a regular newsletter.

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