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How do you help caregivers from migrant backgrounds sharing care?

proefschrift van Menal Ahmad: Dementia care in families with a migration background: Dealing with gendered and cultural obstacles to shared care

11 November 2022


When organising help and support for informal caregivers with a migration background, it is important to look beyond cultural differences, according to Menal Ahmad's PhD research. Ahmad studied the experiences and needs of caregivers with a migration background who care for a family member with dementia. "Informal caregiving is always about customisation," he says. On Wednesday 9 November, she defends her thesis at the University of Humanistic Studies, entitled Dementia care in families with a migration background: Dealing with gendered and cultural obstacles to shared care.


Caregiving, taking care of a close family member, is often hard. According to estimates, almost half a million caregivers in the Netherlands are overburdened. Many of these caregivers have a migration background. Caregivers with a migration background make less use of formal care and support, and become overburdened more often, previous research showed. This may have several causes. Access to formal care and knowledge about the disease may be more difficult. Also, care tasks are more often unevenly distributed within families. Due to gender norms, more care tasks often fall to women who therefore have to provide more extensive care.


What are hindering and promoting factors for sharing care in families with a migration background? To find out more about this, Menal Ahmad investigated the experiences and needs of informal caregivers caregivers with a migration background caring for a family member with dementia. She conducted qualitative research and spoke extensively with caregivers from Turkish, Moroccan, Moluccan, Chinese and Surinamese backgrounds. She also spoke extensively to professionals who support caregivers.

'Culture' offers little guidance

Menal Ahmad looked at families where things did not go well, but also at families where the distribution of care and access to help with this care were arranged in a good way. Her research shows that it is especially important to realise that 'culture' offers little guidance precisely when organising help and support for caregivers. Caring for a loved one has all kinds of complicated emotional and also moral aspects. Caring for your neighbour is done out of love or a certain sense of responsibility, family relationships play a role, and caregivers often derive pride from the role they fulfil.


It is good if a caregiver is aware of this and tries to find out the whole story of a client. If we only focus on cultural differences, a carer with a migration background quickly becomes 'the incomprehensible other' and you miss important information. Cultural background plays a role, but there are so many other factors at play. Such as migration history, the social class a person grew up in, a person's position within the family, the presence or absence of social networks, and what role religion plays in a person's life.

Open and curious attitude

Menal Ahmad: “Some professionals ask me if there is not a handbook listing cultural practices of migrants from different backgrounds, so that they can tailor their help to caregivers from migrant backgrounds accordingly. But there is no such thing, and there cannot be. You can't just put a cultural label on someone. Someone is always much more than that. What does help is an open and curious attitude. Social workers can use all kinds of questions to try to find out about someone's background and life history. If you try to connect with the living environment of caregivers, you often have access to an enormous source of knowledge about the care and support someone needs.” 


Menal Ahmad's doctoral research was part of the project Taking care of caregivers that came about in collaboration with Pharos, NOOM, and MantelzorgNL and was funded by ZonMw.


Thepromotion ceremony (info in Dutch) will take place on Wednesday 9 November at 10 am in Utrecht University's Aula.

Watch an interview with Menal Ahmad:

Also see

Taking care of caregivers


Watch an interview with professors and PhD supervisors Evelien Tonkens and Sawitri Saharso:


When organising help and support for caregivers with a migration background, it is important to look beyond cultural differences, according to Menal Ahmad's PhD research. On Wednesday 9 November, she defends her thesis at the University of Humanistic Studies.