BOSTON—Elder abuse and neglect are growing problems with the rapid aging of the United States, but Chinese seniors in this country face special challenges, according to a new study presented at the Gerontological Society of America (GSA) annual convention, held in Boston, in November.
When asked about being mistreated, Chinese elders interviewed for the study identified psychological mistreatment as the most serious form of abuse, said Chang. Other forms included financial exploitation, physical mistreatment and abandonment.
E-Shien Chang, a Chinese American researcher at Rush University’s Institute for Healthy Aging, in Chicago, spent five years with her colleagues studying members of the Windy City’s Chinese community, who participated in the institute’s program to prevent elder abuse and neglect.
She and Dr. XinQi Dong, also of Rush, worked with the Chinese American Service Alliance, Chicago’s largest organization serving the Chinese community in the Midwest, to collect data.
Their final report included findings from interviews with 39 Chinese seniors ages 60 or older, who participated in focus groups. The study participants indicated said that "caregivers' neglect," such as deliberate refusal to provide an elder food or medication, was especially common.
Chang emphasized that the perceptions of abuse by Chinese seniors differ somewhat from other ethic groups because Chinese elders tend to rely on their children to care for them and avoid hired care providers.
In Chinese culture adult children are traditionally responsible for taking caring for their aging parents, so Chinese seniors may have higher expectations for their caregivers, Chang said.
But as their children grow up in the United States and have more exposure to the American culture than traditional Chinese culture, the older Chinese immigrants are more vulnerable to perceived or actual emotional abuse. For example, she said, Chinese seniors may have broad definitions of abuse, such as hearing their children shout, "Go to hell," a deeply disrespectful affront for them.
The study was published in the Journal of Aging and Health last spring. Chang and her coauthors found, “Chinese older adults have limited knowledge of help-seeking resources other than seeking assistance from local community service centers.” Also, many older Chinese immigrants are further isolated because they don’t speak English, which disconnects them from mainstream American society.
Elder Abuse Awakening Day
Chang and her colleagues also worked with the Chinese community to launch anti-abuse activities.
In June, they launched the first Elder Abuse Awakening Day in Chicago’s Chinatown. They invited professionals to the event to educate Chinese seniors about ways to prevent elder abuse. Also, the event included an essay contest for teenagers who learned about elder abuse and wrote about how to identify and prevent it.
The GSA meeting attracted 3,800 gerontology scholars from 30 countries. Featured topics among more than 1,500 sessions and research papers, 500 of which included minority content. Topics covered such wide-raging subjects as senior health care, Social Security and pension issues, older workers and the impact of senior arts and cultural programs.
Rong Xiaoqing participated at the conference of the MetLife Foundation Journalists in Aging Fellowships, a program of New America Media and the Gerontological Society of America. This article was translated from Chinese by Summer Chiang of New America Media.
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