Care needs of senior citizens

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Family Matters

By Sam George
Currently we are going through a series on caring for the elderly among us. We looked at some the fast growing demography of senior citizens in the Indian American community. In the past weeks, we looked early immigrants from Indian subcontinent (those, who came in late 1960s and early 1970s) and now we turn to seniors who are recent immigrants, who have emigrated or visiting after retirement in India, Gulf nations or elsewhere.
It is not uncommon for an average Asian Indian household to have living with them at least one elderly  parent of either of the couple. While parents visiting from India may stay in the country anywhere from three to six months, a good number of these elderly adults are either legal immigrants or naturalized citizens. This situation opens up several problems for the family.
First of all, a type of joint-family system is recreated in a new social and cultural environment. In this new context intergenerational conflict is an inescapable reality.  Se-condly, these elderly parents suffer from social isolation, often it leading to depression, as there is a lack of community and socialization opportunities. They also lack any meaningful engagement with life. It is said that these older adults are merely “baby sitters” for their grandchildren, or simply a burden.
Thirdly, for majority of the day, they are being confined to a house or an apartment. They have limited resources for recreation and meaningful relaxation. Many of them soon become sick within a short span of time.  This leads to the fourth issue, which is the limited and inadequate medical resource.  
Almost all of these older adult populations are economically dependent on their children, and even if the family is able to provide some insurance coverage or qualify them for Medicaid, Western medicines would have limited benefit for them. A number of these people have pre-existing conditions like diabetes, asthma, hyper tension, and other such health problems. Most of these older adults are used to alternative medicines like homeopathy or Ayurveda. This makes medical decisions much complicated.  
Fifthly, with very little possibilities for cultural adaptation at this age, these older adults regularly experience conflicts with their children and grandchildren on cultural values and norms.  Sixthly, it is not unusual that siblings willingly or forcefully take their turn to host their parents for temporary periods, to elevate care-giving burden on any one person.
Nonetheless, it creates more problems for the older parents because they are constantly shifted from house to house, place to place, and region to region. At their age it is not easy for them to make such sudden transitions, and many of them suffer from adjustment disorder. Once they are somewhat adjusted to one place, it is time for them to move to another.  
And last of all, with culturally imposed filial duty to care for older parents, the working Asian Indian immigrant finds it difficult to effectively care for their older parents. This can elevate their stress level and create new situations of relational conflicts with the parents as well as with other family members.

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 sam@coconutgeneration.com

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