Support of families who are providing care for an older adult with dementia is increasingly being recognized as one of the major interventions nurses and other health care professionals can provide to manage the difficult, progressive disease. This is even more important in families for whom institutional care is not an option because of cultural values of parent care and lack of culturally appropriate facilities, as is true for many Hmong families and those from other Asian and Latino backgrounds. In most cases, this family support is directed at the adult caregivers, but Gerdner and Langford have developed an important innovation in working with culturally diverse families struggling with dementia: a beautiful children’s book that helps grandchildren understand the illness while educating the adults in the family at the same time.
Grandfather’s Story Cloth is a nicely illustrated story of a young Hmong boy, Chersheng, who is perplexed by the progressive confusion of his grandfather whom he loves. For care providers, this book is an important source of insight about the Hmong culture and the struggles they face in caring for an elder with dementia; for Hmong families themselves, the book is a resource they can share with their children. A section summarizing the Hmong’s unique history and culture is available for readers not familiar with this population.
The authors have integrated important aspects to make the short volume culturally appropriate and comfortable for Hmong families to use. As in many Hmong households, the grandfather lives with Chersheng and his parents and brother. As in this family, story cloths are used by the Hmong people to tell their histories of forced migrations and refugee camp experiences after the Vietnam War. Traditional Hmong designs used in their beautiful needlework decorate the inside covers of the book. Most important, half of each page is in English, and the other half tells the story in the written Hmong language.
Other resources make the book even more valuable as an educational tool for Hmong families, libraries, and schools. It features a short explanation of Alzheimer’s disease, and discussion questions to use in conversations with children are available on request from Gerdner at email@example.com. Through external funding from the Extendicare Foundation in Milwaukee, Wisconsin obtained by Gerdner and the Southeast Asian Ministry, 1,000 copies of Grandfather’s Story Cloth are being distributed to select organizations in geographic areas with high concentrations of Hmong American individuals. Organizations include, but are not limited to, elementary schools, public libraries, Hmong cultural centers, Alzheimer’s Association chapters, clinics and hospitals, Lao Family Community, Hmong American Mutual Assistance Association, and Hmong National Development.
Gerdner has an extensive research background in ethnogeriatrics and dementia and, with her nursing student co-author, has used that background to develop a new model of support for families from diverse cultural backgrounds who find themselves in a new country trying to cope with the debilitating gradual loss of an important family member. Perhaps the model can be replicated for other populations.
Gwen Yeo, PhD, AGSF
Stanford Geriatric Education Center
Stanford University School of Medicine