Asians search for alternative to a nursing home, find hope

Families around Metro Vancouver try to find proper housing for their elders. Photo by Anne Roberts, Flickr

Afzal Mangalji, is a social worker with Vancouver Coastal Health. He says that South Asian and Chinese seniors are struggling between traditional and modern practices of senior care.

He says this includes the challenges of integrating with a different culture, language barriers, expectation that elder family members will be taken care by other family, and how family members in home countries view how this care should evolve. Which means that South Asian and Chinese families are forced to look at other options besides the traditional North American nursing home.

For South Asian and Chinese seniors living in Canada the expectation is that children will take care of their parents when they are no longer able to care for themselves. But, due to migration to urban centres and even other parts of the world for employment, it is becoming a cultural practice that is harder to actualize.

Anne Murphy, Assistant Professor in the Department of Asian Studies at University of British Columbia (UBC), agrees that there is a strong urge to take care of elders in Asian culture, whereas social life in Canada is somewhat divided.

“Life is more integrated and multigenerational among South Asian cultures,” says Murphy.

The approach to aging and illness is also quite different. In South Asian and Chinese culture, it is quite common that elders will pass away in the home whereas, in Western culture, this is less likely.

Bridging the cultural divide

Guru Nanak Niwas, a South Asian assisted and independent living facility in Surrey. Photo courtesy of Fraser Health

Guru Nanak Niwas, a facility for assisted and independent living in Surrey developed by Progressive Intercultural Community Services non-profit society (PICS), seeks to bridge the gap between divergent cultures by providing specialized senior housing and care within the South Asian community.

The facility consists of two different types of housing. While independent living offers a multitude of programs and recreational activities for seniors who can live on their own, the assisted living housing provides the option for those who need help with daily activities, but do not require the care provided in a nursing home.

While seniors from all backgrounds are welcome, the Guru Nanak Niwas centre serves traditional South Asian food and includes staff members who speak Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu and English. With a current waiting list of 165 people, the demand exists for more centres of this kind in Greater Vancouver.

“It’s a great means of integration” says Charan Gill, the founding president of PICS (1987).

With a two-year moratorium imposed on parents and grandparents of immigrants to Canada in order to catch up to the quantity of requests, an option like Guru Nanak Niwas becomes even more beneficial to the integration of the South Asian and Chinese communities.

Balwant Sanghera, president of Richmond Multicultural Concerns Society, says seniors have earned a special place.

”They have raised children [and] they have done the best they could to help their family.”