May 2, 2017
What do South Asian Elders in NYC Want?
By: Meera Venugopal

As one of the only non-profits in New York city serving Indian, Pakistani, Indo-Caribbean, and Bangladeshi older adults, India Home recently undertook a survey of Bangladeshi elders the organization serves at its Desi Senior Center in Jamaica in order to gain an objective understanding of their needs. In the past the organization has commissioned reports such as the Attitudes to American Health Care among Elderly South Asians, a 2010 study, where doctors from Brown University conducted research with participants from India Home’s centers to understand the reliance of elderly South Asians on non-Western or alternative forms of medicine such as ayurveda or homeopathy as their preferred first line of defense against illness.

In this tradition of the past partnerships with universities, the latest survey was conducted by graduate students from Hunter College Urban Policy & Leadership Graduate Research. They worked with Bangladeshi and Indo-caribbean immigrant seniors and community leaders from the Jamaica area.

The findings from the survey were recently published in a report titled Migrating from Bangladesh to New York: Needs of Seniors.” Working closely with India Home’s staff, graduate students, Katherine Elston, Marc Fernandes Oriade, Tanik Harbor and Jormary Melo co-authored the report.

Elders fill out the surveys created by Hunter College Urban Policy and Leadership Graduate Research

The 2010 US Census reported that the New York metropolitan area is home to the largest concentration of South Asians in the United States. Bangladeshi seniors were the fastest growing group among all seniors in New York City, increasing at a rate of over 600% between 2000 and 2014, according to the Asian American Federation’s 2016 American Community Survey.

Moreover, 52% of the respondents in Jamaica had arrived in the US only within the last five years, and an additional 15% within the last ten. As a result,  77% of Bangladeshi seniors have limited English proficiency–a fact that points to an even greater need for immediate support.

The elders were asked 4 questions:

  1. What are the current housing needs for Bangladeshi seniors in regards to being both affordable as well as culturally-specific?
  2. What physical and mental health issues are impacting these seniors?
  3. Is access to quality healthcare available in their community?
  4. How does transportation (or lack of) impact their daily lives?

Using a robust survey tool and interview template the survey was administered to 106 respondents and to nine key informants chosen from among other non-profits and leaders serving the Bengali community. The responses yielded a rich trove of data which was then analyzed to provide findings and make recommendations for the future.

Community Gaps and How to Move Forward
The research provided strong evidence of need for Bangladeshi seniors in Jamaica. The research team identified key findings within housing, mental and physical health, and transportation. In addition, the data revealed two important underlying concerns that the research team recommended be addressed immediately.

  1. Bangladeshi seniors face the highest rates of poverty and low income status across New York City.
  2. As one of the newest senior immigrant populations in the region, their English language skills are low. This lack of proficiency makes it extremely hard for these seniors to navigate the community and the social service resources they need for support.

Furthermore, the findings from this needs assessment in Jamaica show even higher rates of lack of income and limited English proficiency than previously collected data from other city-wide research efforts.

Key Findings
A few of the key findings to the four initial questions include:

  • Lack of affordable culturally-specific independent senior housing in Jamaica
  • High levels of social isolation and the stigma seniors face in regard to talking about their state of mental health
  • The absence of chronic disease management and the negative impact of poor diet and limited exercise on their quality of life
  • The underutilization of the public transit system due to cost, language barriers, and discomfort in navigating the system.

The research team recommended that all needs identified within the report be integrated into India Home’s long-term strategic plan and the specific recommendations provided be taken up for implementation.

These include:

  • expanding daily services at the center
  • creating innovative programs for seniors and their families
  • strengthening existing community partnerships as well as building new ones, and
  • continuing to collect data to gain a deeper understanding of the Bengali senior community.

The report felt that by incorporating the report’s recommendations, India Home can further its mission to address the inequities that impact the most vulnerable members of the community and help transform the Bangladeshi senior population in Jamaica, Queens, from one with great needs to one with greater assets.

This article quotes the report with minor changes. To read the full report please click here: Migrating from Bangladesh: Needs of Seniors



The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.