Improving Health Behaviors of Latina Mothers of Children and Adults with Developmental Disabilities

Latina mothers who care for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) over the lifespan struggle to take care of their own health needs in the context of their caregiving experience. Services are typically aimed at the persons with IDD and not their family caregivers. Yet, attending to family caregiver needs may contribute to better long-term care of persons with IDD who remain at home. To address this unmet need, we developed a culturally-based health education intervention for Latina mothers who care for children and adults with IDD. The aim of the intervention is to improve confidence in engaging in positive health activities, to increase positive health behaviors, and to reduce stress.

Using a community-based approach, Dr. Magaña worked with El Valor to conduct an intervention study. El Valor is a nationally recognized non-profit organization that has provided services for persons with IDD and their families for over 40 years. El Valor enrolled 100 Spanish speaking mothers of children and adults with IDD in the study.  The intervention was delivered by promotoras de salud or community health workers who were themselves mothers of children with IDD. The promotoras conducted 8 home visits to participants to deliver the health oriented content.
Mothers who participated in the study increased their:
1) confidence in engaging in health activities
2) self-care activities
3) nutrition activities
4) exercise activities and reduced depressive symptoms
Focus groups held with mothers found that they:
1) valued the relationship and interaction with the promotoras
2) received a key message that focusing on their own health allows them to better care for their family.

While additional research is needed, our results suggest that this community-based intervention is a promising way to increase health behaviors that may lead to overall good health for Latina mothers who care for children with IDD across the lifespan.

Dr. Magaña is a Professor in Disability and Human Development (UIC) whose research focuses on underserved families of children and adults with disabilities.  She holds a Masters in Social Work from California State University, San Bernardino and received her PhD from the Heller Graduate School of Social Policy at Brandeis University. Dr. Magaña completed post doctoral training from the NICHD funded post doctoral program at the Wasiman Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Previous to her appointment at UIC, she was a professor in the Department of Social Work at UW-Madison. Her current research includes an NIH funded study investigating the cultural equivalence of autism assessment among Latino children, and an intervention study funded by the Illinois Autism Program to empower Latino parents of young children with autism. For more information regarding this research study, please contact Dr. Magaña at [email protected]
Funding source:

National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Aging with Developmental Disabilities (Grant # H133B080009).