It is tough enough to age in America if you are white and middle-class. You struggle with the loss of physical vigor, social connections, and independence. You face difficult financial challenges and profound changes in your relationships with family.
Now, imagine aging if you are out of the cultural mainstream of the U.S. Imagine if you came to America as an adult 40 years ago. Your children may be fully adjusted to life in the U.S, but you are not. Or imagine if you came here in old age to be with your now-Americanized adult children. You must face aging in a place where food, culture, and language are entirely unfamiliar. Most of all, you are living in a society where your expectations are turned upside down.
In your home country, children may have been fully expected to care for aging parents. After all, that is how you cared for your parents. But those obligations may no longer exist for your children.
The other day, I had the opportunity to meet with a group of young journalists who are all writing about aging in these communities: Vietnamese, Syrian, Pakistani, Indian, Mexican, and even Native American. I was struck by how similar their stories are. Close-knit families torn apart by the American culture. Aging parents unable to comprehend children who have no time to care for them. Adult children who can’t understand–or meet–their parents’ expectations. Medical and long-term care systems that are utterly unfamiliar.
Limited resources add to the stress. There are some programs geared to these communities scattered around the country. But they are few and often woefully underfunded. There is a wonderful Korean senior center in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. Despite the obvious benefits to the Korean community, the center struggles to remain open and today operates only two days a week.
Just as these elders face extra problems, so do their family caregivers. The National Alliance for Caregiving has taken a close look at the striking diffferences among white, African-American, Asian-American, and Hispanic caregivers. It is worth checking out.
As we think about redesigning long-term care in the U.S., we cannot forget about these populations.