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If you are an Arab-American over the age of 65 years, this pamphlet is for you and your family. Please read it carefully so that your healthcare providers can give you the best care possible and help you stay healthy. Arab-Americans are residents of the United States (US) who trace their heritage or identity back to one of 23 Arab countries.
Special Healthcare Concerns of Older Arab-Americans
Diabetes has recently become more common in many Arab countries because of economic growth, cultural changes with easier access to fast food, less active lifestyles and people living longer. Diabetes is a disease that happens when our bodies are not able to produce enough insulin or if we cannot use it properly. Insulin is a substance our bodies produces to control the amount of sugar in the blood.
When there is not enough insulin, it leads to a high level of blood sugar, and you can become very ill. Having diabetes for a long time often leads to other health problems. These problems include heart and kidney disease, blindness, and frequent infections. Obesity, little or no exercise, and unhealthy eating habits can make diabetes worse. As an Arab-American, the longer you live in the US, the more likely you are to develop diabetes.
Ask your healthcare provider about exercise, medications, and how to eat a healthier diet. Your healthcare provider will check your blood pressure, cholesterol level and your kidney function regularly to prevent complications. You should have your eyes checked every 1 to 2 years. Getting shots to prevent pneumonia and flu can help stop serious infections.
Eating more than your body needs results in these extra calories being turned into fat. This fat leads to weight gain. Obesity is bad for your health. Lack of exercise, family history, and certain medical conditions make obesity more likely.
Obesity is common in older Arab-Americans. The traditional Arab diet is mostly healthy and includes chickpeas, hummus, eggplant, yogurt, olives and less meat. The Western diet is more likely to cause obesity. This diet has more sweets, chips, breads, red meat, and sodas. It also has fewer fresh fruits and vegetables. Obesity can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke, heart disease, and even cancer. It can also cause arthritis of your hips and knees, which makes it harder to walk.
Ask your healthcare provider for advice to help you lose weight, and improve your fitness and quality of life. A dietitian will look at your food habits and suggest a healthier diet. A physical therapist will create a safe exercise plan with you. A Mediterranean style diet which includes eating a few servings of fruits, colored vegetables, whole grains, healthy oils (like nuts and olive oils) is helpful in reducing weight and living a healthy lifestyle.
Cigarette smoking is common among Arabs. Tobacco use in some Arab countries can be as high as 77% for men and 35% for women. Offering a cigarette is often considered a sign of hospitality. However, we now know that nicotine and other harmful chemicals in tobacco cause heart and lung disease, as well as many types of cancer.
Hookah Use: Smoking hookah (also known as shisha, gozza, water pipe or boori) and chewing tobacco are common in Arab communities. Despite their traditional use, both habits are as dangerous as cigarettes. These habits increase exposure to deadly chemicals, and can lead to infections like TB (tuberculosis), mouth ulcers, and cancer. Sharing mouth pieces, not changing hookah pipe water frequently, and using moist tobacco can cause even more harm.
Even if you have used tobacco for many years, stopping now is still very helpful. Talk to your healthcare provider about ways and medications to help you quit using tobacco.
Cancers of the liver, thyroid, brain, kidney and bladder, as well as leukemia, are more common among Arabs in the US. One possible reason is eating an unhealthy diet. Smoking and other tobacco products also increase the risk of cancer. Talk to your healthcare provider about preventing cancer. A low salt, low fat diet, and regular exercise can decrease your chance of getting cancer. It is possible to continue eating many of the foods you and your family love but preparing them in healthier ways.
Some Arab-Americans have low life satisfaction and depression. Depression is different than normal life sadness. It is a disease that changes certain chemicals in your brain and may lead to other health problems. Feelings of being left out and not being part of the American culture are linked to family conflict and depression. You or your family may or may not understand depression, and may be uncomfortable talking to your healthcare providers about it for cultural reasons. Unfortunately, this silence can lead to more hardship and delay in getting help.
If you are depressed or have thoughts of hurting yourself, tell someone right now - a family member, a friend, a religious leader, or a healthcare provider. There are many good treatments for depression for older adults.
Religion and culture affect our healthcare decisions and habits. For cultural reasons, you may think preventive care (vaccines, cancer screening, and medications) is less important. You may prefer family members rather than paid caregivers to provide your personal and supportive care. You may also prefer family members to make your healthcare decisions. You may not be comfortable talking about withdrawing or withholding life-sustaining treatments if your loved one becomes seriously ill. Discuss these health-related decisions with your family, as well as your provider.
Communicating With Your Healthcare Team
Your healthcare team can include physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses, nursing assistants, social workers, pharmacists, and others.
Each team member can help you in a different way. Remember, the right healthcare team for you will want to know about your culture and what is important to you! Your discussions are confidential. You will receive the best care by being open and honest about your cultural beliefs as they may have a major impact on your health.
Look at the chart below. It gives useful advice on what you can do to improve your healthcare.
Ways to Improve your Health Care
|Medications and side effects||
|Traditional medicines, supplements, and complementary therapies||
|Sensitive medical information||
|Health care decisions and planning for end-of-life care||
|Other concerns to discuss||
|Before you leave your appointment (Ask Me 3®)||
Last Updated September 2018