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Culture: Are there Rest Homes in Latin America?

by Brandi

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September 28th, 2009

Currently where I reside in the western United States, there are many rest homes and assisted living centers nearby where elderly people go to live. Within about a five mile radius of our business, there are about five facilities with one right next door to our building.

In the assisted living centers, the people that live there are somewhat independent. They usually have their meals cooked for them, entertainment planned, and transportation provided to go places. However, people residing in rest homes need more constant care, both physical and medical. Both rest homes and assisted living centers are usually very expensive.

When I lived in Latin America, I asked several of the locals if there were “rest homes” in the area. It took me quite a while to even figure out what the word for “rest home” was in Spanish, because only a few Latin Americans were familiar with them. After asking a few local friends, I finally found out that the word for “rest home” in Spanish is “asilo de ancianos”. The interesting part of that name is that “ancianos” means “ancient” or “elderly”, and the word “asilo” means “asylum”, “refuge” or “shelter”. So basically, if it is directly translated, it would be called an “elderly asylum” or “elderly shelter”.

In all of the areas of Latin America that I lived in during the two years I was there, I only saw one rest home—or elderly shelter. However, because I lived only in the mid-size to smaller pueblos, rest homes may have been more common in larger cities.

Now let’s explore some of the possible reasons why there aren’t as many rest homes in Latin America as there are in the United States. Their culture in regard to their elderly family members is very different from our culture here in the United States. Elderly family members will customarily live with their children in the same home. The reason this happens, according to my observations, is that family relations are very strong, and usually the elderly person is not financially independent. In talking to some Latin Americans personally, they seemed to have the mentality that parents take care of their children when they are younger so that they will in-turn, take care of them when they grow older.

In the United States, people seem to have more of an independent attitude with regard to aging. As soon as teenagers get old enough, or get married, usually their parents will gently, or sometimes not so gently, lead them out the door. When people become elderly, they often want to stay in their own homes or live in a rest/assisted living home so they don’t burden their family members. Compared to Latin America, very few elderly people in the United States live with their children.

In Latin America, in addition to the elderly living with family members, it is also quite common to have newlyweds live with family members. As you can imagine, homes could start to fill up very fast in just a few years as children get married and have children of their own while also having grandparents living in the home.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, there is usually a tremendous attitude of respect among family members in Latin America, especially from children to parents and grandparents. It’s great to see the strength of the family in Latin America and the respect they have there as they all live together in the same household.

Moral of the Story: Even though homes can get quite crowded with two or three generations in the same living space, I admire Latin Americans for taking their parents into their homes and making their twilight years more joyful and pleasant.

Sneak peek at next week: “The Spanish Jane and John Doe – Who are they?”

¡Hasta luego! (Until later!)
David S. Clark — President / Director
Click here to learn Spanish!

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