By Muniyra Douglas
Transcribed by Shira Ragosin
It is unknown how many residents have died in illegal Toronto group homes. In 2016, 70 year old, Esa Lehmusjurri, became a victim of one such Scarborough home, where his body was found in the neighbour’s yard. Most occupants in illegal group homes are elderly, and they suffer from more than just mental and physical health issues.
Senior immigrants can have an especially difficult time adjusting to the new cultural environment. Not only do they experience typical elder concerns, like housing, medical care needs, but the cultural and communicative differences, can add to the stresses of the retirement process.
In an attempt to further understand why these systematic problems exist for the elderly, we look deeper into issues such as elder care services and elder abuse.
In this VIBE Talks interview, Correspondent Muniyra Douglas speaks with Pat M Irwin – President of ElderCareCanada, an advice and action consulting service designed for ‘adult children’ seeking care and hands on help for the aging parents. We discuss the struggles of being an adult caregiver, how ElderCare can affect a workplaces bottom line, and some options available for elderly immigrants.
Muniyra: What are the services you provide at ElderCareCanada?
Pat: My dad became sick, had to be placed in a nursing home, and I realized there is nothing out there to help families know and evaluate their options. So it’s everything from strategies, you and the family, your siblings, sit around the dining room table and we say:
“Okay, what are the options? What’s going on? What can we do, immediate, longer term?” So maybe get some help in the home, and then find a few retirement homes, [thinking] about: “Can we afford them?”
Everybody pulling together and getting a strategy, because otherwise a lot of people, for the best of intentions, are at cross purposes with each other. So there’s all that sort of strategic piece, which I would say is the largest part of what we do. Then we do the practical part of that, which is finding a caregiver, or a retirement home, move the person in, get the house ready to sell.
Then, we do something called ‘care management’, because if you think about it, a person who moves into a retirement home at the age of 80, 15 years later, their needs are going to be very different.
So someone has to make sure they are getting what they need as they age, and have more and more situations that require care. The other thing we do is expert opinions. So let’s say, your mother dies; you and your brother are left the same amount of money.
You say to your brother: “I gave up promotions and overtime. I couldn’t take jobs because I was looking after mom. I deserve more,” and your brother says: “You were joined on her account and you lived in her house, I don’t owe you a thing.”
So how do you get past that? I actually went and trained as a mediator, so maybe what we do is figure out: “What did you do? What would be the market value of that if someone else had done it?” and then just see if they owe you money, exactly how can that all be quantified. Sometimes people do it when their parent won’t except help, and I do a report saying what is available, what this person tried to do, and how the parent refused.
So if anybody in the future or anytime wants to say: “Julie, you didn’t help your mom,” [you can say]: “I tried, here’s the report that said I did try and what I tried to do.”
Muniyra: How does eldercare affect the workplaces bottom line?
Pat: I call it the invisible burden, because it usually falls to women, and these women are often baby boomers, or slightly younger, but these are women who have been in the workplace twenty five plus years. So the company has put a big investment in training them, only to have them now unable to, as I mentioned earlier, take promotions, do overtime, and take a new job. They’re now needing to take time away, and just when they should be at their most productive, it’s almost like you're tying one hand behind their back. So they’ve come through the whole maternity leave thing, they’ve launched their kids, and now here they are marginalized yet again. So that person is taking time off, that person is using employee assistance costs, they’re not doing the skills and knowledge transfer to new employees that they should do, or could do, and in general they are not the productive employees that was contributing to [the company’s] bottom line.
Muniyra: What can employers do to be more accommodating towards their staff that are adult caregivers?
Pat: The first thing is recognition and awareness. So don’t make that woman hide what she is trying to do, don’t make her feel ashamed. For example, a lot of managers, who may also be several decades younger than this woman, and have no idea what ElderCare is about. But mangers don’t even know who in their group self identifies as a care giving adult daughter. They may not even know! So recognize it, bring forth support for them, information days. I often say when people contact me: “Do you have employee assistance?” and if you do, and they don’t have ElderCare, ask would fund the cost of a consultation. You’re not asking for paternity leave, you’re asking for a bit of help. So bring it out of the shadows, recognize, and even applaud it, have an information fair, one day or two, a wellness day that includes ElderCare services, don’t make them hide anymore.
Muniyra: What are some options available to elderly immigrants so that they can feel more comfortable, or engage more socially with other members of society?
Pat: Huge question. In that whole sponsoring program, when you sponsor your parents, as you know, you’re financially responsible for them for a number of years, and there are a number of steps in the process, use that time. So for the sake of argument, you’re bringing your parents over from India, and do you know their own chronic conditions? Do you know what they think that they’re going to do all day? Do you plan to have them live with you, or near year? Who are they now, and what will they be when they come here? The example being, your parents in India, have lived there for many generations, they had a certain status, they had wealth and a home and a reputation, and they also came from a society that reveres its elders. So now you come to Canada, are you expecting them, for example, to live with you and babysit? Have you set up, or do you even have any faith based connections or community connections? Are you at all involved in the Indian community? Because if you’re not, they’re not going to be. So you better start to put those things in place, based off the knowledge of your parents, and based off what’s available here. So you’ve got to do research, you don’t just write a check saying: “I’ll look after my parents.” You better think about their social, and emotional, and cultural needs, as well as their health needs. They have to pass a medical [test] to come here, but are they going to stay well, and what are you going to do to make sure that they do stay well? The saddest stories, and they’re very common, is you bring your parents over here, and they wind up sitting in the basement all day watching grandkids, or they’re watching TV in a family room because it’s too cold to go outside and they just have no sense of what’s available to them, and you are gone 12 hours a day, if they live with you. Of if they don’t live with you, even worse.
Muniyra: How do you deal with the language barrier?
Pat: It’s the adult children who would contact me and I would have to go through them. It’s not ideal, but the objective is so worth it. You get these bewildered people who, everything about themselves is being taken away from them. The biggest thing truly is that elders are revered in so many of these cultures, and families look after their various generations, and when those two things are taken away in this society, it’s sometimes more than they can take in, and they become physically ill because they are so socially and personally bewildered and hurt and just totally out of their element, which I think is a crime.
Muniyra: What are the biggest concerns that you do see with elderly or elderly immigrants?
Pat: This is a society that is often the reverse of what they have grown up in, where they don’t revere seniors, and seniors are invisible and marginalized. It must be extremely hard for them to find a place for themselves where they feel they belong and can have self worth. And this is where I really blame the adult children: “Why did you bring them here if you didn’t put in place the support you knew they needed?”
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