Srila Sen Srinivasan, Ph.D
In this article I want to focus on some of the issues which Indian senior citizens face in the U.S. I feel the Indian seniors are an ignored segment of the immigrant population. Considerable attention is paid to the fact that overall the Indian immigrants are “doing well” and belong to the middle to upper middle segment of American society and the focus is on persons who are in the working ages ranges from 25-65, and not much attention is paid to those over 65 especially their role in the family and the community.
Under the auspices of Chandra Ganapathy, Nutrition Director at Hessco Elder services, monthly meetings have recently been organized for the Indian seniors in Sharon at the Council of Aging headed by Norma Fitzgerald, who is an experienced social worker. Two such meetings were held in January and February, where Indian Seniors got together to socialize, exchange ideas and views, and share their expectations, beliefs and concerns over a nutritious Indian meal provided by Jaipur Café run by Dr. Shubhro Sen and Mary Sen in Norwood. Hessco Elder Services also provides free taxi and/or bus services and the seniors can be transported from their homes to the center.
The seniors, their children as well as their grandchildren feel that this is an invaluable service being provided to the Indian community. In addition, I believe the quality of the lives of senior citizens is also enhanced by “intergenerational interaction” and I recommend such interactions between senior citizens and their children and grandchildren in a structured environment. Nachiketa Tiwari and Abhaya Asthana, who co-ordinate Bal Vihar programs where Indian children learn an Indian language, applauded the idea and have begun to promote and facilitate such an “intergenerational interaction” between grandparents and grandchildren at the Bal Vihar held on Sundays in Norton.
In preparation for the senior citizens event in Sharon, I designed a survey, which asks Indian seniors about their “State of wellness.” The objective of the survey was to ask what is the seniors’ concept of wellness in their own cultural context. In other words what is the ideal of wellness in India? How far or close do they deviate from this concept of wellness in the U.S? What can be done to actualize wellness. I conducted a random sample of around 30 seniors.
This wellness survey revealed that 90% of the seniors felt ‘isolated,' ‘lonely,’ ‘depressed’, and or ‘sad’ and a ‘burden’ on their families and community. The seniors feel that even though their children make a tremendous effort to take care of their physical as well as their emotional needs, they are unable to express themselves freely. There are various cultural taboos around freely expressing ones needs and concerns. They often experience feelings of “guilt” as they feel they are not contributing in any way to their immediate families. The seniors feel that they have rich and complex experiences to offer their children and grandchildren, which are not being tapped. They said they were tired of being bored, and sometimes feel angry, alienated, and disempowered.
The seniors requested that Indian senior citizen centers should be provided in different towns and counties, and at these centers support groups can be co-coordinated in structured ways by mental health professionals who have an understanding and sensitivity to cross cultural configurations. The intergenerational interactions between grandparents and grandchildren of Bal Vihar and the socialization group which meets at Sharon Council of Aging can prove to be a pilot for fostering other similar senior centers. These centers would be a model for support groups, socialization groups, cross cultural groups, which include other American seniors as well, autobiographical groups, to which seniors could define for themselves the role they could play in the community and family. These centers can also provide a number of other concrete services, which include wellness counseling, improved English language usage if needed, writer’s workshop, computer skills and training, driving, and yoga classes. These centers can also provide a directory of resources related to transportation, libraries, and other cultural activities, and how to access them.
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