Last Updated: June 18, 2018
Assisted living communities have moved their focus from traditional housing to affinity senior living communities to meet an increasing need for communities that better fit residents’ backgrounds, interests and lifestyles. Now, they’re moving toward culturally-authentic senior living as well.
A Sense of Community
Not long ago, it was difficult for Asian-American seniors to call assisted living ‘home’ due to the differences in background and culture in most communities. “Before Asian-specific senior living communities were created,” Emily Poon, Executive Director of Aegis Gardens in Fremont, California, explains, “there were seniors with diverse backgrounds who could not find commonalities in traditional senior living.” She adds that these seniors suffered, feeling disconnected and isolated due to a lack of sense of belonging.
Seeing the opportunity to improve these seniors’ lives, Aegis Gardens and Keiro Northwest were designed to be culturally-authentic – allowing their residents to adapt easily and feel more comfortable in their new senior living residence.
Aegis Gardens is centered on culturally-authentic Chinese communities but brings together seniors of all ethnicities, including Korean and Japanese residents. Aegis Gardens opened their first culturally-designed community in Fremont, California in 2001 and recently opened their second community in Newcastle, Washingon. Keiro Northwest focuses on assisting the Japanese community in Seattle and, according to Darcia Tanabe, Communications Manager at Keiro Northwest, “Our close involvement with the local Japanese-American community helps the residents maintain relationships they have established over a few years or even a lifetime.”
Poon says that affinity senior living communities allow residents to feel a real sense of belonging and that most relate on their background, upbringing and similar interests. Tanabe agrees, saying, “Residents gain a sense of purpose as they share their culture and experiences.”
Cultural Senior Care
One of the biggest differences between traditional senior housing and affinity senior living communities is cultural care. Assisted living for Asian communities focuses on cultural aspects of care that align with traditional family beliefs and values — from architectural design to activities and cuisine that remind the residents of home. Cultural aspects of care include:
- Activities including Chinese calligraphy, mahjong and tai-chi
- Cuisine including traditional dishes like fish, noodles, porridge, soup, steamed vegetables and rice
- Feng-shui architecture and building interiors
- Multilingual caregivers and staff
- Respectful cultural design including Chinese gold coins, guardian lions and removal of the unlucky number four from the building
- Activities including Japanese calligraphy, card games like hyakunin isshu and Japanese folk dancing
- Asian-inspired garden for activities and relaxation
- Cuisine including traditional dishes like chawanmushi and oyako donburi
- Multilingual caregivers and staff
- Respectful cultural design including tsuru longevity symbols and a torii gate
Finding Culturally-Authentic Assisted Living for the Asian Community
When searching for a culturally-authentic assisted living community for yourself or a loved one, it is important to consider all of your options. Some seniors would rather be cared for by their families according to tradition, and may not want to consider an assisted living community — though Asian senior living communities are growing increasingly popular in the U.S.
If you are looking for assisted living for the Asian community, be sure to research the residence beforehand and ask yourself if its services meet your cultural beliefs and your personal level of care.
Seniors enjoy these communities because they give residents “a fresh start to life,” says Poon. “It’s like a whole new world,” she adds. “Residents can socialize with others and make friends, they are able to have traditional food, which is very important, and they are able to be cared for and communicate with Asian caregivers.” Tanabe agrees, saying, “Our residents can enjoy activities, food, language, music and friendship that is comforting and familiar.” She continues, “They live life to the fullest and teach us the true meaning of aging with grace.”
Do you or a senior loved one reside in an affinity senior living community? We’d like to hear more about your experiences in the comments below.
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