Valuing bilingual workers

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Elizabeth Leis Newman
Elizabeth Leis Newman

We know that speaking two languages has positive effects, ranging from an ability to switch between tasks to cognitive quickness in older adults.

But a new study shows a new factor: speaking a second language likely can delay the onset of dementia. In a study of more than 640 people in India, around 400 spoke two or more languages, and all had some form of dementia. People who spoke at least two languages developed dementia 4.5 years after people who spoke one language, researchers at Nizam's Institute of Medical Sciences found.

While other studies have shown the cognitive upgrade that comes from speaking more than one language, the Indian study showed that formal education doesn't make a difference, as 14% of the group studied was illiterate.

What is interesting about this, apart from the implication that you should plop your kids into an immersion program or speak a second language at home, is that also this week RAND Corporation released a study examining foreign-born workers in healthcare. It found that about 20% of the direct healthcare workforce (which includes certified nursing assistants) was undocumented workers.

“U.S. policymakers may want to consider immigration changes to make it easier to recruit needed health professionals such as direct care workers,” the authors wrote.

What this boils down to for LTC administrators and directors of nursing: The healthcare workforce, including long-term care, needs foreign-born workers, and we should value the skill set involved in being able to speak two languages.

The long-term care industry is no stranger to a fear-based approach toward immigrants, specifically the idea that these workers would take away jobs from Americans. But much to the American Health Care Association's credit, in the spring it pushed for immigration reform, specifically a viable guest worker program for healthcare providers. That's based on the statistic, from the Health Resources and Services Administration, that the supply of nurses will fall 36% below needed levels by 2020.

There have been conflicting reports out of Washington as to whether immigration reform is dead this year (and the fact that they are getting criticism from within the party), but the latest comments from Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) indicate it's probably going to be tabled until 2014.

But neither party can turn a blind eye to the issue, especially with a recent poll finding that 71% of Americans said they would like an immigration bill that contains, among other items, an expanded visa program for high-skilled workers. As leaders in the industry, it's your responsibility to develop a position and mention it during Congressional visits, or during written interactions with your representatives. And in the meantime, revisit those Rosetta Stone CDs languishing in a drawer.

Elizabeth Newman is Senior Editor at McKnight's. Follow her @TigerELN.

Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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