Aging Away from Home

Older adult sitting in a wheelchair looking out a window.

According to a report released by the U.S Census bureau in June 2020, the proportion of 65-and-older population in the U.S is projected to increase rapidly driven by the aging of Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1964. As the nation has continued to gray, it has also grown more racially and ethnically diverse. Data for 2019 shows that immigrants are still coming to America at much older ages than during previous decades. Also, the nation’s overall immigrant population (new arrivals and established immigrants) is aging rapidly.

Another important report from the Center for Immigration Studies argued:

  • “The average age of all immigrants — newcomers and established immigrants — increased from 39 years to 46 years between 2000 and 2019. This is more than twice as fast as the average age increase for the nation’s overall population.
  • The number and share of all immigrants 65 and older have exploded; more than doubling from 3.3 million in 2000 to 7.5 million in 2019.
  • The number of immigrants 65 and older grew by 126 percent between 2000 and 2019, dramatically faster than the 42 percent increase in the number of working-age immigrants 18 to 64.
  • The increase in the age of new arrivals contributed to the rapid aging in the overall immigrant population, though the primary reason is simply the natural aging of immigrants already in the country. Moreover, by definition, all births in the United States to immigrants add to the native-born population, not the immigrant population. This causes the immigrant population to appear to grow quicker, but it is due to a categorization change for this sector of the population.”

As we see the increase, we prepare to understand the population characteristics, dynamics, locations and identifying their barriers to services. At Pathfinder, we see it as part of our mission to look at the various cultural backgrounds of the families we support and see how we can best serve them as they age. We consider different cultural customs and values, their familial relationships and support structures, economic means, as well as the  support resources currently available and their limitations. With a deliberate approach acknowledging that they change over time, we can grow our services to best suit the present and future needs and see an increase in the fulfillment of special needs, rather than a decline that is potentially  caused by static and outdated criteria.

Nevertheless, several different factors cause difficulty in providing resources. The lack of documentation and thus the limited accessibility to benefits make a difference in the eligibility among many immigrants. Even for many who have documentation, it is common to work in the informal workforce, limiting access to Social Security and Medicare benefits. The hesitancy to seek help is another factor for many populations who have lived abroad, as their experience often leads them to believe that many resources are not available, unless you are very wealthy. They tend to expect the same, which is a difficult barrier to overcome through information received mostly by word-of-mouth and targeted campaigns. Although the prevalence of limited or lack of English proficiency across immigrant communities has been widely documented, many institutions do not accommodate the plethora of languages spoken by diverse immigrant communities. Relevant public messages, health information and media advisories continue to be primarily disseminated in English, which creates a serious gap in knowledge and information to non-English speaking communities.

Furthermore, we observe increasing levels of loneliness or social isolation among older adults who have language barriers and are not living in communities that are reflective of their cultural backgrounds. According to the CDC, this is a major risk factor for adverse health outcomes, including premature mortality, dementia risk, cardiovascular disease, higher health care usage, and depression.

Most of these barriers make older immigrants dependent on informal resources, placing heavy burdens on family caregivers, and relying on charity care or philanthropic organizations. The practices of creating a path of formal and informal resources unique to each older-immigrant adult will not be sustainable as the population continues to grow if organizations do not incorporate systems to address these issues.   It is crucial that we all continually navigate an inclusive path to resources.