Older Asian-Americans Moving Away From Home

16 September, 2015

Americans with older parents often struggle about how to house those family members.

When should elderly parents leave their home? Should they move into a retirement community or stay with their children's family?

For Asian Americans, the idea of a retirement home often goes against traditional ways of taking care of elders. So it may be surprising to learn that two companies are spending millions of dollars to create more housing choices for Chinese elders.

And there is a high demand for such special housing for the elderly.

Aegis Living CEO Dwayne Clark (left) and development manager Brian Palmore at the future location of the Chinese-themed retirement home Aegis Gardens in Newcastle, Washington.
Aegis Living CEO Dwayne Clark (left) and development manager Brian Palmore at the future location of the Chinese-themed retirement home Aegis Gardens in Newcastle, Washington.

Development manager Brian Palmore tells about the luxury retirement home he is building near Seattle.

"This would be the main dining area. Directly behind us is where the Zen garden will be..."

Special care for Chinese retirees

Aegis Living is a company that builds housing for the elderly. The company hopes to attract Chinese-Americans and Chinese immigrants to buy space in this $50-million retirement community.

"Right next to the sports den, we have the Mahjong room, gaming room..."

There will be 100 housing units in the building. Some other features include multilingual nurses, "chair Tai Chi," a tea room, Asian food and a Chinese multicultural center. Aegis Living founder and CEO Dwayne Clark says demographic research found that many people want senior care that fits well with their culture.

"There's 92,000 Chinese-Americans within 25 miles. There are 30,000 within seven miles. I said, 'You're kidding.' I couldn't believe that."

Planning well from the start

The builders began thinking of how to honor cultural traditions from the early stages. Clark said his company brought in a Feng Shui expert to review the site plans. The development has been named Aegis Gardens. Residents will pay $15,000 to $60,000 to move in. Monthly rents for its luxury apartments will be as high as $8,000.

Across Lake Washington in southeast Seattle, construction is also underway. A nonprofit called Kin On is spending about $7 million to expand its nursing home into a campus. When completed, it will provide various housing options for elderly Asian immigrants. Most qualify for government financial assistance.

Sam Wan has been Kin On's director for 30 years. In the halls, one can hear conversations in Cantonese and Mandarin...

...but Wan remembers at the beginning. People did not believe that Chinese families would put their elders in a nursing home.

Cultural traditions of caring for older people

"The newer immigrants would be considering having their elders stay at their home. They live together, three generations together. The nursing home phenomenon is a pretty much a Western type of culture (thing)."

Pam Tsai and her sister thought that way. The women looked after their elderly mother. But when mom, who doesn't speak English, needed skilled nursing care, they turned to Kin On.

"My ma, she likes Chinese food. She talks Cantonese. She likes it here."

Because Kin On meets those needs, the family finds it acceptable.

Across town, Aegis Living leader Mr. Clark remembers similar conversations.

"I remember meeting with this one woman who was an executive, a high-tech executive. And she said, 'You know, Dwayne. I spent almost $200,000 going to Stanford and getting my undergraduate degree and my MBA. I don't know that I want to stay at home and take care of my mother-in-law. I want to put my MBA to work.' And she said, 'I think this is an idea whose time has come.'"

Better than at home

He says that Aegis Living wants to make living in their retirement home better for seniors than staying at home.

"If you're the best, then the guilt of people having their mom and dad in this place will dissipate. It will go away."

Many other assisted living or retirement homes try to match the culture of Asian seniors in the city. Seattle Keiro opened in 1976 for Japanese elders, and the pan-Asian Legacy House has operated since 1998.

I'm Jill Robbins.

Tom Banse wrote this story for VOA News. Dr. Jill Robbins adapted it for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.


Words in This Story

elderlyn. old or rather old : past middle age

retirement homen. a place where people who no longer work can live and sometimes be taken care of

nursingn. the job of taking care of people who are sick, injured, or old

multilingual - adj. able to speak and understand several languages

Tai Chi - n. a Chinese form of exercise that uses very slow and controlled movements

senioradj. of, relating to, or designed for older people

Feng Shuin. a Chinese system for positioning a building and the objects within a building in a way that is thought to agree with spiritual forces and to bring health and happiness

nursing homen. a place where people who are old or who are unable to take care of themselves can live and be taken care of

campus - n. the grounds and buildings of an institution, especially a college or other institution of learning, a hospital, or a corporation

assisted living - n. a system that provides a place to live and medical care for people (such as elderly or disabled people) who need help with daily activities

Now it's your turn. Are there retirement homes where you live? Or do elderly people stay with their families? Write to us in the comments section.