Who takes care of the elderly in Latin America?

Jacob Reno
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In the socially and genetically close extended family structure of Latin America and the Caribbean, there is no need for institutionalized elderly care (2008). The tradition of co-residence, where family members live together in multigenerational homes (linices), makes it inevitable that the older generation will receive care by its younger family members.

In the linices, the older generation maintains its own sense of dignity, independence, privacy and self-determination and is afforded the opportunity to contribute to the family in a wide range of activities. The extended family also provides important economic, social, spiritual, educational, health, and psychological support through collaboration, co-operation, solidarity, caring and commitment (Evenson, 2010).

Multigenerational homes allow for extended and full-time care for the elderly, especially aunts and uncles, who help to raise children, pass down traditions, and can more easily provide for their needs (ibid.). Two-generation households can also have economic and social benefits, since women and men can play complementary roles in the extended family sharing children care and housework (Amato & Rivera-Aragones, 2009).

Nuclear family:

While this distribution is not common, it is significant and difficult to explain. In a past post, I touched on the concept of taboos and how this can relate to the emilia. Taboos are what people, often unconsciously, avoid talking about, and taboos are often at the root of societal divides.

There are several explanations for the high prevalence of older people living with children. The economic strength of the family, and the obligation that comes with it, is the traditional explanation. Another theory regarding the emilia suggests that if finances are a concern, a child that lives alone is a financial burden, whereas one that is part of a family unit is not.

One way or another, it’s often a conjugal unit that takes care of an elderly family member. If you’re a child living with your parents, but not married or living as a couple, consider the possibility of the emilia, as it’s a real possibility for you.

Live alone:

Skip the tiny, expensive apartments and homes for the live-alone crowd.

One of the benefits of living in Latin America is knowing that you're less likely to be alone as you get older. Millions of Latin Americans belong to “adelante” (progress) clubs that bring together retirees who enjoy the company.

In fact, you can even save serious money on your mortgage or rent payment if you join a club.

Here are some of the advantages of these clubs:

You get to hang out with like-minded neighbors and friends Your children get to know their grandparents better and they can be your “retirement buddies” There are never any unexpected chores to take care of. You don’t have to worry about cooking, cleaning, or shopping because others will help with that. You can get health alerts and have access to better health care. For example, in senior-friendly Florence, Italy, elderly people can get a health alert (the equivalent of a “medic alert” in the U.S.) that ensures someone comes over within a half hour to help with a health issue. It begins with a blue beacon on the front door or at the gate of the neighborhood and also has an emergency button that the senior can press to ask for help.


A home health-care professional can provide preventive, diagnostic, medical, and therapeutic services to individuals at home. The terms “home healthcare” or “home care” can be used to mean different things.


The law in Argentina requires that each individual have 3 medical designations of people able to help with their care if needed. The first to be known and seen as the "first contact" is your family … and the person who cares for them almost always ends up sleeping in the hospital with them.

My mother couldn't take any more care of me. She'd been taking care of my deaf father for years, and she realized she had a stroke. She also developed some nerve damage in her right arm, from for years taking care of my father.

So my sister had to take her place. It was a type of stroke that affected her speech. She never took care of me, she always let my father do it. She also had finished working with me, so she could work on him.

It's very common for family or close friends who have been taking care of the patient to have medical issues, such as stress, high blood pressure or numbness. In most cases doctors say it was caused by the stress of taking care of someone who is basically bedridden.


After becoming orphaned at a young age, Barcelona, who goes by his first name, took care of his grandmother. Now he maintains a good relationship with his aunt and uncle and visits them regularly.

He is not alone. Colombians with an aging population take pride in maintaining family ties ……….Family relationships play a crucial role in the lives of many of Colombia’s older adults.