Language barriers appear to increase aggression in dementia patients.

Researchers have found that immigrants living with dementia exhibit higher levels of agitation and aggression compared to their non-immigrant counterparts. 

The research by Edith Cowan University (ECU) and The Dementia Centre, HammondCare, focused on individuals in residential aged care homes, and highlights the significant impact of language barriers and cultural differences on the behaviour and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD).

The collaborative study delved into the clinical and demographic characteristics of both immigrant and non-immigrant groups, revealing that while BPSD such as agitation and aggression were common, immigrants were more prone to these symptoms. 

The findings suggest that language barriers, coupled with loneliness and boredom, play a crucial role in the severity of these symptoms among non-English-speaking immigrants.

“In Australia, over 400,000 people are living with dementia, a number projected to double by 2058,” says lead researcher Pelden Chejor from ECU's Centre for Research in Aged Care.

“At least 54 per cent of people living in residential aged care homes in 2019 - 2020 had a dementia diagnosis.” 

Chejor says there are unique challenges faced by immigrants.

“Over 31 per cent of aged care residents were also born overseas, and 9.2 per cent of people using aged care preferred a language other than English,” he said. 

“In 2019 - 2020, 21 per cent of people living with dementia in [residential aged care homes] were immigrants from non-English speaking countries."

The study's findings underscore the importance of cultural and linguistic considerations in the care of dementia patients. 

“The higher severity of agitation or aggression is likely driven by communication difficulties as there was no difference for the English-speaking immigrants,” Chejor says. 

He is calling for increased awareness and education on the impact of culture and language in dementia care to better manage symptoms.

The research, as it appeared in BMC Geriatrics, can be found here.