By Sam George
Today we begin a new series on seniors and caring for the elderly. In the coming weeks we shall dwell on issues about aging parents and senior citizens of the Indian American community. Please do send in your thoughts and views. Your input is most welcome.
The Indian American community is coming of age. The early immigrants, those who came in the 60s and early 70s, have now retired. Some are living with their children and grandchildren, while others tend to live by themselves. Some have returned to India and others are relocating to warmer places. Also included are elderly parents, who visit their children who live in North America.
With the new innovations in healthcare and healthy diet, life expectancy has expanded the golden years for many. At one time, life expectancy was considered to be in the 60s or 70s, but now many live until their 80s and even into their 90s. Quality of life is of the utmost importance, and many seniors desire to stay in their homes as long as they can. Families desire to meet the wishes of their senior family member, but are concerned of the safety and welfare of their loved one.
Caring for the elderly is a complex issue. When cared for by their children who also have to care for their own children, this calls for different sets of understanding and caring philosophy. They feel trapped between caring for generations above and below them. Losing your spouse and life beyond one’s marriage brings its own challenges. When aging parents are far away (back in India or elsewhere) it brings different kinds of problems.
Caring for an aging parent, elderly spouse, or close friend presents difficult challenges, especially when a crisis hits and you are suddenly faced with the responsibilities of elder care. Perhaps your aging mother fell, is hospitalized with a broken hip, and needs to go to a rehab facility or nursing home to recover. In other cases, the elderly are diagnosed with some terminal conditions.
Some are healthy after retirement, but vast majorities of them are showing symptoms of a variety of diseases. Some are beginning to lose memory, while others are living with serious illnesses. But all of them show some form of wear and tear, declining physical strength and mental abilities. Inadequate retirement savings or lack of medical coverage is a serious source of anxiety.
Elderly people are often the ones, who are left in situations where they are not cared for adequately, because the extended family and social network would culturally have provided for their needs. Some early immigrants expect their children to take care of them, while children, having been Americanized, think parents want their own independence and should opt to choose nursing homes.
With the pressures that come from everybody having to work to survive in an adopted country, the nuclear family is frequently left unable to cope with the elderly. As a result, older people are either put into care in a nursing home or sent back to South Asia, where they feel lonely and unable to cope with the community surrounding them.
Sam George is the executive director of Parivar International, a non-profit initiative to address the needs of youth and families of Asian Indian origin in North America. Sam is the author of the book “Understanding the Coconut Generation” (www.CoconutGeneration.com). He can be reached at email@example.com