Proyecto Visión 21

Good news: Mexican neuropsychologist works to improve “cultural sensitivity”

Francisco Miraval

It seems that something that is so obvious to many of us has finally found its way into the scientific community: not all of us think and express ourselves in the same way. For that reason, the tools and test used to measure the cognitive ability of people can’t be same for people of different cultures.

Therefore, it is good to know that at least one researcher is now working “to improve cultural sensitivity in cognition testing.”

Enrique Lopez, PsyD (from Mexico) is the director of the Health Psychology Training Program and assistant professor in the Cedars-Sinai Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences and the Department of Neurology in Los Angeles. He recently said that, “The tools neuropsychologists use to assess and measure cognitive ability are not necessarily standardized from one country to another – or even from one neighborhood to another nearby.”

In other words, health professionals and educators should take into consideration the language and the culture of the people because those are two factors impacting the way people express their attention span, their memories, and their words.

It seems that if those cultural differences are not taken into consideration there is a risk of assuming a person has a certain neuropsychological problem when it fact those results are caused because the person belongs to a certain culture or demographic group.

Of course, there are already many neuropsychological tests to determine the severity of brain damage caused by injuries or illnesses. But, if the assessment of the patient doesn’t include his or her cultural environment, there is a risk the results of those tests could be misinterpreted, leading to difficulties in choosing the proper treatment.

According to Lopez, the lack of culturally sensitive cognitive tests is a problem affecting Spanish-speakers in the United States. “We did not have norms to effectively evaluate brain injuries or illnesses in Spanish-speaking individuals,” he said in a recent statement.

Let’s see if I understand what he is saying: if I speak Spanish and my brain is impacted by an illness or injury, until recently there were no proper tools to see what was actually happening to my brain. How then would they be able to treat me?

Probably, in a wrong way. According to Lopez, especially in the case of immigrant workers, “it was very hard to decipher the results because we did not have the appropriate norms,” that is, multicultural norms applied to cognitive tests. I wonder how many more fields in the area of health still lack proper multicultural tools.

I think we all need to be thankful to Dr. Lopez for his efforts (including a database with over 10.000 cases from different countries and cultures). I trust other healthcare professionals will follow his example so they will use or develop more culturally sensitive tests.

In the meantime, it is good to know that there are people like Lopez, who, regardless of their high academic achievement, they still care about those in need and they become the voice for the voiceless. 

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