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South Asian Seniors and their Growing Needs


Surrey, Vancouver, Oct 05, 2011
Balwant Sanghera

Canada’s seniors’ population is growing with leaps and bounds. It has been reported that in BC alone, one out of four British Columbians will be over the age of 65 by 2032. As their numbers grow so do the issues relating to their welfare and well-being. Consequently, the focus of both the government and non-government agencies is fast shifting to responding to their needs. Baby boomers now make up a very large and formidable group of consumers. As such, nearly every business organization is making seniors as their focal point. Senior members of the South Asian community are facing some of the same issues as their counterparts in the mainstream community. However, there are also some stark differences between the two groups.

In the South Asian community, usually, children take care of their parents and grandparents, as they grow old. The family unit and the extended family play a very important role in this regard. However, there comes a time when the family is unable or unwilling to take care of their elder members. At this point, they need outside help. Some of the seniors want this change on their own while others are forced into it. This raises the question of independent/semi independent living arrangements.

 Till only a few years ago, the demand for independent/semi independent living for South Asian seniors was very minimal. However, during the past few years, due to the changing demographics, the need for such facilities has intensified. These days, a lot of South Asian seniors don’t want to become a burden on their children and grandchildren. They recognize the added responsibility of their children who are sandwiched between them and their own children. Consequently, they prefer to retain their own independence by opting for an independent/semi independent type of setting. Such an environment is very conducive to retaining their independence as well as increased opportunities for socialization with their peers.

            Unfortunately, these kinds of facilities are very few. A facility with culturally sensitive environment such as South Asian food and language etc. is hard to find. Until only a few years ago, there was no facility that would fit the bill. However, a few years ago, a prominent Surrey based social services organization - Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society (PICS)- took up the challenge. It has built and successfully run two major facilities that have become very popular in the community. As a matter of fact, PICS built/run   facilities in Surrey have been doing a commendable job in meeting the needs of this group of seniors. Demand for such facilities is very high. There are reports of long waiting lists of people willing to call these facilities their home. The community would definitely benefit from more culturally sensitive facilities like these for those who would like to have independent or semi-independent living.

                                    Then there is another level of South Asian seniors who are in need of more dependent and specialized setting. These are the seniors whose needs can’t be met by the family. At the same time, they are too fragile or vulnerable to cope in an independent/semi independent setting. Their special physical and mental health needs necessitate a very specialized facility. Such facilities geared towards South Asian seniors are hard to find. There are only a handful of privately run facilities in the Lower Mainland. However, they can’t keep up with the community’s growing needs.  This is an area, which deserves immediate attention. In order to address this issue initiatives like public/ private partnership may be worth consideration. This is an area in which appropriate health authorities should take the lead.

                        Then there are vast majority of South Asian seniors who have a very active lifestyle. They are still farther away from needing any of the above facilities. They enjoy visitng friends, relatives and other places of interest either in a group or on their own.  For them, convenient modes of transportation are crucial. In this regard, the subsidized bus/transit passes are a boon to them. These passes enable such seniors to travel widely, visit relatives, friends, parks, malls and go sightseeing. As matter of fact, some of the seniors even take advantage of the free same day ferry rides to Vancouver Island on weekdays. Thus, this program  it has numerous health benefits. In addition to built-in in exercise like walking, their ability to socialize goes a long way in keeping them physically and mentally fit. Making these passes more affordable and easily available would greatly benefit all of the seniors in general and South Asians in particular. In this matter BC Transit can play a key role.

                        Like seniors in every other community, some of the South Asian seniors, especially older women, often feel isolated. With added responsibilities of taking care of their grandchildren and lack of suitable transportation, some of them suffer at home in silence. This may lead to physical and mental health problems. This is an area that needs a collaborative approach by the family, community, health authorities and the government. The old saying that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure is very appropriate in this case.

In summary, South Asian seniors like their counterparts in the mainstream are proud Canadians. Most of them are taking excellent care of themselves. However, there is a segment that needs assistance in making their lives more meaningful and enjoyable. These include more culturally sensitive facilities / resources for independent/semi-independent living, long-term care facilities as well as the ability to travel around more freely. Such measures are bound to keep South Asian seniors healthy and happy.

Balwant Sanghera (Balwant Sanghera is a retired School Psychologist and Community Activist)




Balwant Sanghera

Balwant Sanghera
President, Punjabi Language Education Association . He is a retired School Psychologist and Community Activist in British Columbia ,Canada.