Culturally Appropriate Geriatric Care: Fund of Knowledge

Traditional Health Beliefs

Fund of Knowledge

Many Korean immigrants use Korean traditional health practices for example the practice of traditional medicine called Han bang. Four common treatment methods include:

  • ch’im (acupuncture),
  • Hanyak (traditional Korean herbal medication),
  • d’um (moxibustion, direct or indirect burning with a stick made of the mugwort plant) and
  • buhwang (cupping applying heated glass cups directly to the skin, forming a vacuum).

Han bang, derived from Chinese traditional medical practices, is based on balance between um (the same as yin) and yang, as well as the balance of fire, earth, metal, water, and wood. Some diagnostic methods used in Han bang include observing the patient, obtaining a history of the illness, listening to a patient’s voice, and taking the patient’s pulse (Kim K et al., 2002).

Older Koreans may attribute illnesses to a failure to fulfill spiritual obligations, whether these are based in Christianity, Confucianism, animism, or shamanism. Some may feel that their illnesses are due to failure to pray, others to displeasure of ancestors with their burial place, or still others to offending folk spirits.

In one study of older Korean American women, the women attributed illnesses to Hwabyung (“fire illness”), caused by the inability of expressing their emotions openly. Each emotion was believed to affect a particular organ system and the flow of Ki (the energy that animates all living things) in different ways. The women in the study were well educated and in most cases the emotions were related to difficult interpersonal or family relationships.

Many Korean immigrants still receive their primary health care from a traditional medicine practitioner solely or in addition to a western health care provider. Older Korean Americans may alternate between seeing practitioners of Western and traditional Korean medicine. However, Koreans may not openly discuss their use of traditional Asian medicine with physicians trained in Western medicine, possibly because of a fear of ridicule or wish to avoid causing offense to the clinician.