The Experience of Elderly Immigrants of Mexican Origin with Life-Limiting Illness: A Critical Ethnography


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A record 33.7 million Hispanics of Mexican origin resided in the United States (U.S.) in 2010, comprising 10.7% of the total population and 63% of all Hispanics (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011a). Individuals of Hispanic or Latino origin made up 7.1% of the U.S. population of elders, aged 65 years and older (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011b). There is a disparity in access and use of health services among immigrant elders (Lowman et al., 2008; Lum & Vanderaa, 2010). The purpose of this qualitative study was to describe and explain the health care experiences of elderly immigrants of Mexican origin who face life-limiting illness in the U.S. The study, a critical ethnography, was philosophically informed by Jürgen Habermas’s critical social theory and guided by Urie Bronfenbrenner’s ecological model. Thirteen first and second generation immigrants of Mexican origin were interviewed who were aged 65 years or older and diagnosed with heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic respiratory disease, or diabetes. The semi-structured, audio-taped interviews were analyzed using Carspeken’s five stages of critical qualitative research. Low and high level coding techniques identified the three large categories of REACTING to the diagnosis, RESPONDING to the illness, and RELATING to health care providers. Findings suggest more research is needed to improve health care delivery to the population. In particular, the immediate emotional needs when diagnosed, appropriate assistance while learning to self-manage, and the paramount role of physicians and nurses in the elders’ health care decisions merit further inquiry.



gerontology, life-limiting illness, critical ethnography, qualitative study, Mexican immigrants, immigrant health