On May 18th, 2019, SAAPRI hosted a community dialogue titled “South Asians Aging in America.” Community members, leaders, and stakeholders joined this critical gathering to discuss the unique challenges and intersections of multigenerational caregiving, disability, health, and aging in the South Asian community. Our keynote speaker, Paula Basta, Director of the Illinois Department on Aging, engaged our community members on the role her office plays to support our 35,000 and growing population of South Asian American seniors in Illinois.
Our panelists, Anuja Gupta (Managing Partner at Verandah Retirement Community), Talat Khan (Executive Director of American Association of Retired Asians), Santosh Kumar (Executive Director of Metropolitan Asian Family Services), Dr. Syed Mohsin (Geriatrician at Advocate Christ Medical Center), and Sumithra Murthy (UIC Department of Human Development & Disability), moderated by Dr. Sunita Singh (SAAPRI Board Member), shared their unique insights on their models of care and the challenges South Asian seniors face from their expertise on senior health, social services, and disability research.
A community discussion was led by Dr. Rooshey Hasnain (UIC Department of Human Development & Disability) to shed light on experiences of caregiving in our community and how to address barriers to care from a policy perspective.
These were some of the key takeaways from the discussion:
- Barriers to Care for South Asian Seniors
- South Asian seniors often have a limited social network, lacking the extended family support available in their home countries. Seniors need people of their age and generation to socialize with. A limited social network can lead to social exclusion and isolation
- South Asian culture is more collectivist, meaning health decisions are typically made by the family and not on an individual basis. As a result, seniors tend to be less independent
- South Asian culture also tends to be more fatalist. Seniors are less inclined to believe their health is in their control. Such cultural and family dynamics can lead to depression, anxiety, and reliance on coping mechanisms among caregivers
- Seniors face discrimination and marginalization in trying to access services. It can be difficult for non-South Asian caregivers, doctors, and other health providers to understand South Asian dynamics. Additionally, many assisted living facilities or senior centers do not offer food, languages, activities, etc. that are familiar to South Asians
- Major Health Concerns in the South Asian Community
- Even though South Asians have among the lowest number of risk factors (e.g. smoking, hypertension, obesity, etc.), certain diseases are more prevalent in the community. These diseases include diabetes and heart disease
- Issues such as dementia and Alzheimer’s are a growing concern as the elderly South Asian community grows
- Other issues raised included depression and social isolation as it relates to mental health and the role of immigration as a risk factor for health conditions
- Among other groups, more education and money leads to better health outcomes. However, this isn’t the case for South Asians, as more education and more money doesn’t translate to better health
- There is also a higher incidence of “Geriatric Syndrome,” in that South Asians often feel elderly at early ages
- Policies That Can Benefit South Asian Seniors
- Improved language access, healthcare, daycare, and transportation services
- More affordable housing, particularly culturally-sensitive affordable housing
- Better mental health services, including counseling
- Improved access to digital literacy, so seniors can access information and government benefits more quickly
- Priorities for the Department on Aging
- Increasing culturally-relevant and evidence-based programming
- Maximizing public-private partnership, as institutional care is the last resort
- Bringing diverse voices into the department
- Best Ways to Advocate
- Community members can attend hearings at local agencies to advocate for culturally-sensitive services. Federal funding for seniors is distributed to the state; the state distributes this funding to local agencies
- Similarly, community members can attend Illinois Department of Housing and Chicago Housing Authority hearings to advocate for more affordable housing for seniors.
- Community members can call 1-800-252-8966 to access resources, including referrals for respite care
- Community centers and agencies in Chicago and surrounding suburbs offer free meals, activities, and exercise classes for seniors
In the coming months, SAAPRI looks forward to working with our partners to better understand the needs of our aging population and formulate policy recommendations that support South Asian seniors in Illinois.
Thank you to all those who attended our event!