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Social Work doctoral graduate sheds light on issues facing elderly South Asian immigrants

Tuesday, May 8, 2018 • Media Contact: Herb Booth

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A bond between a grandmother and her grandchild formed a passion to help others in their time of need.

Rupal Parekh, UTA social work graduating doctoral student and adjunct professor, is collaborating with the D/FW Hindu Temple in Irving to better understand the transportation barriers faced by South Asian immigrants.

Rupal-Parekh, right, with Kris Hohn

Rupal-Parekh, right, with Kris Hohn, two UTA School of Social Work students, are graduating with doctorate degrees.

These more mature immigrants tend to be between 60 and 95 years old and entering the country to be with their adult children, Parekh said. The research is conducted by speaking with participants in this demographic about their experiences and analyzing how cultural institutions affect their well-being.

Growing up in Oklahoma, Parekh saw the need to better serve South Asian immigrants, she said. Her grandmother had been a major figure in her life and inspired her to understand the needs of South Asian older adults. Many people in this demographic are dependent on their children to support them in everyday life functions.

“She was really vulnerable because she was dependent on her adult children for all of her needs, and she had been a really independent person back in her country,” Parekh said.

Children and grandchildren can provide a support network for their incoming relatives, she said. A lack of cultural and social ties to the country and isolation from society contributes to this issue. Coming to a new country at their age is a major shift in a later stage in life, which differs from adults who had time to adapt to the United States. Children and grandchildren can provide a support network for their incoming relatives.

The Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area is affordable and provides opportunities to create businesses. This contributes to the growing population in the area. The South Asian older adult population has increased more than 160 percent from 1990 to 2000, she said.

However, with this growth comes other challenges, primarily transportation.

In their native countries, they could typically walk to community centers and gatherings. However, in the United States and in the DFW area this is not the case.

“[I hope to] shed light on this issue so that we can start thinking about how we can provide adequate and reliable transportation to some of the populations that are so hidden,” Parekh said.

Practitioners, researchers and other professionals have trouble accessing this population because many of them do not seek social services, she said. Language barriers also come into play.

Many of these children have become the caretakers for these seniors. Health issues may go unnoticed because these seniors’ children are busy with their own lives.

Parekh is graduating in May and hopes to carry a similar project to the next stage of her career.

“As social workers I think we need to continue to incorporate more aging curriculum so that our students are prepared to work with this large growing older adult population,” Parekh said.

-- written by John Hoang