Cultural Competence: Latino Older Adults

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, The United States is projected to be a majority-minority nation by 2043. By 2060, nearly 1 in 3 Americans will be Hispanic, up from 1 in 6 Americans now. The Latino older adult population is expected to grow 3.9% each year from now until 2050, with Latinos comprising nearly 16.4% of the older adult population by 2050.

This means you will almost certainly have seniors of Latin American descent needing your services in the years to come.

Here are some important things to know:

  1. Not all Spanish-speakers are alike. That’s REALLY important. Someone from Havana may have very different views than someone from rural southern Mexico. We must treat each person as an individual.
  2. Spanish is important. As a group, Latinos value retention of Spanish as their native language, and approximately 60% of older adults speak Spanish at home. People will have varying levels of English skills depending on when they came to this country and how much they have adapted to mainstream American culture. Add to that the fact that people with dementia can lose their skills in a second language first – knowing some Spanish and continuously improving your Spanish skills is vital.
  3. Extended family relationships are often very important among this culture group. Generational status is also important, so we must be mindful of patriarchal and matriarchal relationships.
  4. Roman Catholicism is prevalent among Latinos. About 68% of Hispanics are Catholic, and about one-third of Catholics in the U.S. are Hispanic.

The language barrier may be the biggest challenge for us in eldercare. Fortunately, music can be a great way to make some connections without stumbling through a conversation (although it’s a wonderful thing to stumble through a conversation with someone in THEIR preferred language!)

When using music from other cultures in other languages, it is still super important to do some background work to make sure you understand where the song comes from and what it is communicating. Always look for a translation of the lyrics before sharing a song, and try to find out whether there is any special connection for a particular song with a particular cultural group.

Here are the Spanish-language songs I use most frequently with my older adult clients:

Folk Songs:

De Colores

Alla en el Rancho Grande

La Bamba (traditional)


Cielito Lindo

El Rey


Besame Mucho

Sólamente Una Vez

Popular Song:

Eres Tú

La Bamba (Ritchie Valens version)

Piel Canela

Quizás, Quizás,Quizás

Patriotic Song:

Guantanamera (Cuba)

These song are a good starting place, but of course every person has different favorites and preferences. What Spanish-language songs have worked well with the seniors you serve?


  1. Lea on April 4, 2013 at 3:13 am

    Mexican Hat Dance (La Raspa) (El Jarabe Tapatio)
    La Cucaracha
    Amapola (Gene Autry version) This was covered by a lot of big bands Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Glen Miller
    Las Mananitas (traditionally sung to the birthday person in Mexico)
    Cucurucucu Paloma
    Mambo music:
    Papa Loves Mambo
    Mambo no 5
    Mambo Italiano

    • Rachelle on April 4, 2013 at 3:15 am

      I forgot about “Las Mananitas!” Very important!

      These are great suggestions. Thanks for chiming in!

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