Improving health literacy about dementia among older Chinese and Vietnamese Australians

Betty Haralambous, Paulene Mackell, Xiaoping Lin, Marcia Fearn, Briony Dow

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2 Citations (Scopus)


The number of older people in the population is increasing faster than for any other age group. This population growth, while positive, is associated with increasing incidence of chronic and progressive diseases such as dementia. This requires older people to navigate services that may not be designed to meet their needs. This issue can be further amplified in culturally and linguistically diverse populations who often have limited English language proficiency and limited knowledge of diseases such as dementia. Health literacy, a person's ability to access, understand, appraise and apply information about their health and health care, including navigating health services, is low among older people and even lower among older people born overseas. This paper describes findings from a recent research study which developed and used the Cultural Exchange Model. The model is based on a process of collaboration, whereby researchers, service providers and community members work together to build evidence about a particular topic, in this case dementia. The study demonstrated that the Cultural Exchange Model facilitates opportunities for researchers, health professionals, community workers and carers to improve their knowledge of conditions such as dementia and rapidly translate evidence into practice. It also showed that it is possible to recruit, engage and generate new knowledge within populations that are traditionally excluded from research but have high prevalence of dementia. This study shows health literacy is an evolving process. Access to ongoing education for professionals, not only of the clinical condition and the service system, but also the cultural elements of the communities they are working with, requires consideration. What is known about the topic? We know there is limited health literacy among older people and among older people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds. We also know that the older CALD population is increasing rapidly and with that comes increased chronic illness and chronic diseases, including mental health issues and dementia. What does this paper add? This case study has added to the knowledge base in relation to health literacy and older people from CALD backgrounds. The use of the Cultural Exchange Model is documented in terms of how it enhances our improved understanding of both the barriers and enablers older Chinese and Vietnamese people with dementia face when seeking help. This paper highlights key findings from a study, which could be used by researchers and practitioners when working with older people from CALD backgrounds more broadly. What are the implications for practitioners? This paper highlights findings from research that has reinforced that health literacy is an evolving process. It requires professionals to recognise the gaps in their own understanding of conditions such as dementia and understand how these gaps might influence help-seeking behaviours of older people and their carers. Access to ongoing education of clinical conditions and the service system is required, but also the cultural elements of the communities they are working with should be considered.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-9
Number of pages5
JournalAustralian Health Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • ageing
  • education and training
  • equity
  • health services
  • models of care

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