Looking After Our Elders

Old_Sikh_man_with_stick.jpgA recent documentary on BBC Asian Network discusses the growing population of South Asians entering old age and the impact that is being felt on the middle generations who look after them. The documentary discusses the responsibilities second-generation Asians have to look after their elderly family members while balancing a career at the same time. The documentary illustrates the difficulties and sacrifices people make when looking after their parents/grandparents and the subsequent loss of dignity the elderly experience when suffering with illnesses and a loss of independence. I’m glad the documentary brought attention to an important issue that we have not readily addressed in our community.

0fdadb5e_1d75_401c_86ba_c75a28c6826d_c985edca_0858_4b28_88ef_92eca2810e85.webjpg.jpgHaving had recent personal experience with this issue, it is something I have thought about extensively. In our community, it is natural for children and grandchildren to take care of their parents or grandparents. It is an integral part of our culture and in fact, I think it creates a special bond between generations who are often pulled apart by language and culture. The documentary talks about the duty to look after our elders and the guilt individuals feel when they are faced with the decision to put their parents/grandparents in a nursing home. As one individual says,

I never thought I’d be speaking to meals on blooming wheels for my father… and having to resort to the [government] to take care of him.

Assisted-living facilities, which allow the elderly to live independently with some supervision, became popular in America beginning in the 1980s. For many immigrants, and their children, the move into nursing homes or assisted-living facilities runs counter to deeply held beliefs about elders and family. However, it is a fast-growing population that has begun to embrace the very American tradition of living the last years with peers, not family. This phenomenon is driven by two-career families that have little time to care for their parents, increased wealth within immigrant populations and gradual acceptance of a lifestyle that was unheard of a generation ago.

pun9.jpgWhile I cannot deny that this struggle probably exists in the minds of many Punjabi Sikhs, I believe that there is a lot we can do for our elders prior to this decision being made. For example, our community does not do a good job of providing services to our grandparents’ generation that will be conducive to them staying active and social. Many people assume that the elderly simply want to go to the Gurdwara all day, and while that may be somewhat true, I believe we are doing a disservice to them by simply assuming that our grandparents do not value their independence. I strongly believe that providing this generation with an infrastructure that encourages social and active behavior would only be beneficial to their health. More often that not, when individuals become less active and cut those social links with their peers, their health suffers.

It was promising, therefore, to read about the work being done with elderly immigrants in Fremont. By training a cohort of “community ambassadors,” volunteers are provided with the tools to go into their own ethnic and faith-based communities to teach seniors to access transportation, social activities and health care and to help them gain a measure of independence. Kashmir Singh Shahi, is a volunteer whose parents came to live with him from India,

Yet all too soon, his parents, both 70, suffered serious health problems. His father became bedridden with a blood disorder, and his mother suffered mental illness – forcing Shahi to navigate the labyrinthine American health care system and seek local community organizations to help ease his domestic load. [Link]

It is clear that we have a huge need we are not addressing within our community. We have to recognize that our grandparents still want to continue being active and involved and need to retain their independence. We have to do a better job of appreciating this need. As Jagmeet Kaur of Sikhs Engaged in Volunteer Activities says, “It is so sad for them to be just babysitters. They should have a life of their own.” There is a huge demand for day centers and nursing homes that are culturally sensitive to the Punjabi Sikh community’s needs. Instead of building multiple Gurdwaras within a two-mile radius, perhaps we could use those funds to build community centers (where the youth and elders of our community can share a common space and build upon those relationships) and also focus on building nursing and residential homes where our grandparents can remain independent and feel at home.

There is so much more that can be discussed with this topic, but I hope this will not be the only dialogue we have around this issue. My hope is that it makes us more aware of the challenges incurred by the older generation and what we can do to help reduce that burden for them. Thoughts?


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33 Responses to “Looking After Our Elders”

  1. Maestro says:

    Thank you for writing about this very important issue. This topic hit home for me and it has made me think about my own experience. My grandparents lived with us during their final years and although it was the only option, it wsa very difficult for my parents and took a toll on them. I know that my grandparents did not like to feel like a burden but if we had other options available, maybe their final years would not have been so difficult.

    I continue to be a dedicated reader to this blog because you discuss issues like this.

  2. Phulkari says:

    Sundari,

    You ask:

    Instead of building multiple Gurdwaras within a two-mile radius, perhaps we could use those funds to build community centers (where the youth and elders of our community can share a common space and build upon those relationships) and also focus on building nursing and residential homes where our grandparents can remain independent and feel at home.

    As far as I know, there are these "community centers" or "societies" in Canada where elderly men/women come to socialize. These centers are also sites for delivering government-based social services for the elderly. As far as the youth component, I am unsure. I would imagine great volunteer opportunities for high school students.

    I think we should start at least by building day centers that are managed with cultural and religious sensitivity. I know completely giving-up our parents and grandparents to a residential or nursing homes can be difficult emotionally based on our community's notions of family and responsibility. However, a day center can provide critical nursing services during the day that a dual-earning family may not be able to effectively provide alone, while bringing parents and grandparents back-home for the evening and night.

  3. Maestro says:

    Thank you for writing about this very important issue. This topic hit home for me and it has made me think about my own experience. My grandparents lived with us during their final years and although it was the only option, it wsa very difficult for my parents and took a toll on them. I know that my grandparents did not like to feel like a burden but if we had other options available, maybe their final years would not have been so difficult.

    I continue to be a dedicated reader to this blog because you discuss issues like this.

  4. Phulkari says:

    Sundari,

    You ask:

    Instead of building multiple Gurdwaras within a two-mile radius, perhaps we could use those funds to build community centers (where the youth and elders of our community can share a common space and build upon those relationships) and also focus on building nursing and residential homes where our grandparents can remain independent and feel at home.

    As far as I know, there are these “community centers” or “societies” in Canada where elderly men/women come to socialize. These centers are also sites for delivering government-based social services for the elderly. As far as the youth component, I am unsure. I would imagine great volunteer opportunities for high school students.

    I think we should start at least by building day centers that are managed with cultural and religious sensitivity. I know completely giving-up our parents and grandparents to a residential or nursing homes can be difficult emotionally based on our community’s notions of family and responsibility. However, a day center can provide critical nursing services during the day that a dual-earning family may not be able to effectively provide alone, while bringing parents and grandparents back-home for the evening and night.

  5. baingandabhartha says:

    i cannot agree more with this-building gurdwaras has gotten out of hand in parts of california. Day care centers for our elderly so that they are not facing intense social isolation would be such a tremendous thing-but try explaining that to the zealots that run a lot of the gurdwaras….

  6. baingandabhartha says:

    i cannot agree more with this-building gurdwaras has gotten out of hand in parts of california. Day care centers for our elderly so that they are not facing intense social isolation would be such a tremendous thing-but try explaining that to the zealots that run a lot of the gurdwaras….

  7. what's in a nam says:

    What about extending Gurdwara complexes to include for day care centres?

    There are Gurdwaras with community halls which are used for parties etc – what about using these spaces. – but yeah I guess there is a need for Gov't funding to establish properly run and maintained centres with the appropriate language and food and care requirements.

    Tho' I know my mother wouldn't have wanted to spend her day being bossed about by neurotic Punjabi women with power issues and what not, let’s face it who else will have time to provide service at these centres? (sorry I've so totally lost my humility in my old age 😛 )But seriously I think the community itself has issues of its own to sort out in order to be able to advance such services.

    Sorry just thinking aloud.

  8. what's in a name says:

    What about extending Gurdwara complexes to include for day care centres?

    There are Gurdwaras with community halls which are used for parties etc – what about using these spaces. – but yeah I guess there is a need for Gov’t funding to establish properly run and maintained centres with the appropriate language and food and care requirements.

    Tho’ I know my mother wouldn’t have wanted to spend her day being bossed about by neurotic Punjabi women with power issues and what not, lets face it who else will have time to provide service at these centres? (sorry I’ve so totally lost my humility in my old age 😛 )But seriously I think the community itself has issues of its own to sort out in order to be able to advance such services.

    Sorry just thinking aloud.

  9. Sundari says:

    Maestro, yes – i think this issue is quite personal to many of us and that's why it's interesting to think about how our generation is dealing (or not dealing) with it.

    Phulkari – the community centers in Canada are a great idea. But i wonder, are these community centers active and do they encourage social activities or are they simply a place for groups to congregate? I agree that these centers would be a great place for the youth to volunteer and day centers would be a great place to start.

    baingandabhartha and what's in a name – you both make good points about the benefits to building day centers (many of our elders do face social isolation). Ideally, it would be great to extend gurdwara complexes to include day care centers but i'm also hesitant to add anything additional on to gurdwaras who are already struggling with their own political agendas. I wonder what other options (if any) there are…

    I recently heard about an idea being thrown around in my community about building a nursing home specifically for Sikhs. It will be located close to a gurdwara but i'm not sure if it will be affiliated with the gurdwara. I really hope this idea takes form…

  10. Sundari says:

    Maestro, yes – i think this issue is quite personal to many of us and that’s why it’s interesting to think about how our generation is dealing (or not dealing) with it.

    Phulkari – the community centers in Canada are a great idea. But i wonder, are these community centers active and do they encourage social activities or are they simply a place for groups to congregate? I agree that these centers would be a great place for the youth to volunteer and day centers would be a great place to start.

    baingandabhartha and what’s in a name – you both make good points about the benefits to building day centers (many of our elders do face social isolation). Ideally, it would be great to extend gurdwara complexes to include day care centers but i’m also hesitant to add anything additional on to gurdwaras who are already struggling with their own political agendas. I wonder what other options (if any) there are…

    I recently heard about an idea being thrown around in my community about building a nursing home specifically for Sikhs. It will be located close to a gurdwara but i’m not sure if it will be affiliated with the gurdwara. I really hope this idea takes form…

  11. Abinaash says:

    I feel like this is a great idea. However, also another idea that will get lost in conversation, unless we attempt to do something about it. I have unfortunately had to deal with a very similar issue (a lot sooner in life than I imagined) and it definitely is no walk in the park.

    Here is my question, what can we do to actually get this conversation to happen within the walls of the gurdwaras? How can be begin to have both generations (elder and the youth) to be thinking constructively about this?

    I think if we actually come out with a bullet point outline of realistic goals, needs, and expectations we can actually do something about this. I realize this site is anonymous, however what do you guys feel would be some of the key aspects to actually start this as a real project?

  12. Abinaash says:

    I feel like this is a great idea. However, also another idea that will get lost in conversation, unless we attempt to do something about it. I have unfortunately had to deal with a very similar issue (a lot sooner in life than I imagined) and it definitely is no walk in the park.

    Here is my question, what can we do to actually get this conversation to happen within the walls of the gurdwaras? How can be begin to have both generations (elder and the youth) to be thinking constructively about this?

    I think if we actually come out with a bullet point outline of realistic goals, needs, and expectations we can actually do something about this. I realize this site is anonymous, however what do you guys feel would be some of the key aspects to actually start this as a real project?

  13. what's in a nam says:

    'i’m also hesitant to add anything additional on to gurdwaras who are already struggling with their own POLITICAL agendas'

    LOL EGJACKLY! :)

    "I recently heard about an idea being thrown around in my community about building a nursing home specifically for Sikhs. It will be located close to a gurdwara but i’m not sure if it will be affiliated with the gurdwara. I really hope this idea takes form…"

    I think it's a nice initiative but I wonder about this. Are we (as a 'community') copying mainstream culture – and offloading the responsibility of our parents? Will we eventually have to resort to this if we are to live in this country and try to hold down jobs to pay the bills? Is there any scope for alternatives?

    I dunno – this is one I struggle with too.

  14. what's in a name says:

    ‘im also hesitant to add anything additional on to gurdwaras who are already struggling with their own POLITICAL agendas’

    LOL EGJACKLY! :)

    “I recently heard about an idea being thrown around in my community about building a nursing home specifically for Sikhs. It will be located close to a gurdwara but im not sure if it will be affiliated with the gurdwara. I really hope this idea takes form”

    I think it’s a nice initiative but I wonder about this. Are we (as a ‘community’) copying mainstream culture – and offloading the responsibility of our parents? Will we eventually have to resort to this if we are to live in this country and try to hold down jobs to pay the bills? Is there any scope for alternatives?

    I dunno – this is one I struggle with too.

  15. what's in a name says:

    What role should children-in-law play in the care of the parents of their partners?

    In the olden days a woman married into a family and she was expected to do everything for her in-laws. Cook, clean, wash and iron their clothes, chauferr them around then bear them grand-children and run around after them. (In some cases – many actually – these expectations are still prevelant)

    Today’s women are educated. They earn more than their husbands in some cases. Should they give up their careers / lives to look after people that will never be their parents and that will never treat them like their own kids?

  16. what's in a name says:

    What role should children-in-law play in the care of the parents of their partners?

    In the olden days a woman married into a family and she was expected to do everything for her in-laws. Cook, clean, wash and iron their clothes, chauferr them around then bear them grand-children and run around after them. (In some cases – many actually – these expectations are still prevelant)

    Today’s women are educated. They earn more than their husbands in some cases. Should they give up their careers / lives to look after people that will never be their parents and that will never treat them like their own kids?

  17. Phulkari says:

    Sundari,

    As far as I know their both a place to congregate and encourage social activities (which are part of the social services provided by the government).

  18. Phulkari says:

    Sundari,

    As far as I know their both a place to congregate and encourage social activities (which are part of the social services provided by the government).

  19. Sundari says:

    Abinaash – I completely agree and have a similar concern that this dialogue has to be sustained with real action. At the least, we are having a conversation about it and as comments on this post have suggested, this is an issue that many of us are currently dealing with. I believe that instead of creating more organizations, we should work within existing structures to change these ideas into action items. Like i said earlier, working with the gurdwara could be a solution in some communities – but it is not necessarily a good idea for all communities. It would be a good idea, however, to arrange focus groups that convene at local gurdwaras to brainstorm ideas of what the needs of this generation are.

    It would be great if we could come up with a list of goals, needs, and expectations for this issue as a first step. Then finding an organization to take on this as a project would be a follow up step. I'm sure there are grants that could help sustain a project like this.

    There are so many aspects to focus on such as health, transportation, housing etc that it would be important to narrow the issues down somewhat. One of the key aspects of starting a project like this is to create something that is culturally sensitive. In addition, i think the community has to support the idea (such as a community center or day center). It cannot be seen as simply a place to drop off your elders – there has to be some level of support in creating a place like this. Just as it takes an entire village to raise a child, I think in a similar way, the entire community should take care of our elders.

  20. Sundari says:

    Abinaash – I completely agree and have a similar concern that this dialogue has to be sustained with real action. At the least, we are having a conversation about it and as comments on this post have suggested, this is an issue that many of us are currently dealing with. I believe that instead of creating more organizations, we should work within existing structures to change these ideas into action items. Like i said earlier, working with the gurdwara could be a solution in some communities – but it is not necessarily a good idea for all communities. It would be a good idea, however, to arrange focus groups that convene at local gurdwaras to brainstorm ideas of what the needs of this generation are.

    It would be great if we could come up with a list of goals, needs, and expectations for this issue as a first step. Then finding an organization to take on this as a project would be a follow up step. I’m sure there are grants that could help sustain a project like this.

    There are so many aspects to focus on such as health, transportation, housing etc that it would be important to narrow the issues down somewhat. One of the key aspects of starting a project like this is to create something that is culturally sensitive. In addition, i think the community has to support the idea (such as a community center or day center). It cannot be seen as simply a place to drop off your elders – there has to be some level of support in creating a place like this. Just as it takes an entire village to raise a child, I think in a similar way, the entire community should take care of our elders.

  21. Sundari says:

    what’s in a name – I think you raise a good point but no, I don’t think that following the mainstream culture by offering support and services to our community and to a generation in need is necessarily a bad thing. The downfall of our community is not asking for help when we need it and instead, suffering in silence. I think it’s about time we admit that we have similar issues to those in the ‘mainstream’ and therefore creating interventions for these issues should be a concern for us. I don’t think creating day care centers or nursing homes for Punjabi Seniors is ‘offloading’ our responsibility. I think many people in our community already struggle with working a job and looking after their elders (which can also be a full-time job) and it’s becoming harder and harder to balance them both. We no longer live in Punjab where you have extended family living within the same house as you and you also servants to take care of the house. By offering help to those who are struggling to deal with these issues would only be a seva to the community.

    So, yes, i think that eventually we will rely more and more on receiving support from outside our homes. The difference will be that we can help create places that are culturally sensitive and offer the services our community would need instead of relying on ‘mainstream’ places that currently exist.

    I think that looking after our elders is part of our culture – whether that be our parents/grandparents or our partner’s. Nonetheless, this is another topic we could delve into…

  22. Sundari says:

    what’s in a name – I think you raise a good point but no, I don’t think that following the mainstream culture by offering support and services to our community and to a generation in need is necessarily a bad thing. The downfall of our community is not asking for help when we need it and instead, suffering in silence. I think it’s about time we admit that we have similar issues to those in the ‘mainstream’ and therefore creating interventions for these issues should be a concern for us. I don’t think creating day care centers or nursing homes for Punjabi Seniors is ‘offloading’ our responsibility. I think many people in our community already struggle with working a job and looking after their elders (which can also be a full-time job) and it’s becoming harder and harder to balance them both. We no longer live in Punjab where you have extended family living within the same house as you and you also servants to take care of the house. By offering help to those who are struggling to deal with these issues would only be a seva to the community.

    So, yes, i think that eventually we will rely more and more on receiving support from outside our homes. The difference will be that we can help create places that are culturally sensitive and offer the services our community would need instead of relying on ‘mainstream’ places that currently exist.

    I think that looking after our elders is part of our culture – whether that be our parents/grandparents or our partner’s. Nonetheless, this is another topic we could delve into…

  23. […] death also made me reflect on the need for us to rethink elderly care in the Diaspora based on the varied circumstances and needs of elderly Punjabi Sikhs. For example, different waves […]

  24. Sundari says:

    I just came across another article that discusses the hardships faced by elderly Punjabi immigrants,

    In a tiny walkup apartment crowded with Indian immigrants, Hardev Singh, 75, adjusts the volume of a Sikh prayer that plays over and over from a boom box. He says he moved to the U.S. to be with his daughter and her family. In Punjabi, he explains that his daughter actually invited him and petitioned for him to come over here, so they would stay together as a family. But what Singh found here was a family under stress. His daughter and her husband worked the night shift at a medical supply factory. His adolescent grandchildren lived a lifestyle he describes, kindly, as unfamiliar. Then his son-in-law’s parents also came, and there wasn’t enough room in the house. Singh moved to this crowded apartment across town.

  25. Sundari says:

    I just came across another article that discusses the hardships faced by elderly Punjabi immigrants,

    In a tiny walkup apartment crowded with Indian immigrants, Hardev Singh, 75, adjusts the volume of a Sikh prayer that plays over and over from a boom box. He says he moved to the U.S. to be with his daughter and her family. In Punjabi, he explains that his daughter actually invited him and petitioned for him to come over here, so they would stay together as a family. But what Singh found here was a family under stress. His daughter and her husband worked the night shift at a medical supply factory. His adolescent grandchildren lived a lifestyle he describes, kindly, as unfamiliar. Then his son-in-law’s parents also came, and there wasn’t enough room in the house. Singh moved to this crowded apartment across town.

  26. ynkapur says:

    I DO AGREE THAT INSTEAD OF OPENING GURUDWARAS EVRY 2 KILMETERS ONE SHOULD BEHAVE A GOOD SIKH BY LOOKING AFTER YOUR ELDERS.

    I AM WILLING TO PROVIDE THIS SERVICE .

  27. ynkapur says:

    I DO AGREE THAT INSTEAD OF OPENING GURUDWARAS EVRY 2 KILMETERS ONE SHOULD BEHAVE A GOOD SIKH BY LOOKING AFTER YOUR ELDERS.
    I AM WILLING TO PROVIDE THIS SERVICE .

  28. sbains says:

    hi there.

    I'm 29 from London UK, and have elderely parents, my father is pretty much bed-ridden and my mom of 70 is his main carer. Unfortunatley all three daughters (inc myself) live on average 2 hour drive away.

    We're at a stage now where we have to decide on their furure – my mom is really independent and has an amazing social life that she really doesn't want to give up. This make any decision making difficult.

    The idea of a medical day centre is fantastic – if you guys have made any progress I would love to hear it – and maybe could replicate the process here?

    AN update to a rapidly increasing problem would be very much appreciated.

  29. sbains says:

    hi there.

    I’m 29 from London UK, and have elderely parents, my father is pretty much bed-ridden and my mom of 70 is his main carer. Unfortunatley all three daughters (inc myself) live on average 2 hour drive away.

    We’re at a stage now where we have to decide on their furure – my mom is really independent and has an amazing social life that she really doesn’t want to give up. This make any decision making difficult.

    The idea of a medical day centre is fantastic – if you guys have made any progress I would love to hear it – and maybe could replicate the process here?

    AN update to a rapidly increasing problem would be very much appreciated.

  30. […] TLH we have addressed various issues effecting the South Asian elderly community. The recent news article in the the […]

  31. adult family says:

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  32. adult family says:

    I like this article. Not just this article, but many articles on this website. Programmers

    are human too.

    But some questions remain: what if the good job has a bad salary and vice-verse? This is a

    frequent dilemma for many people.