Two thick blankets wrapped in a cloth tie lay near a single pillow on the red leather sofa in Phuong Lu’s living room. Doanh Nguyen, Ms. Lu’s 81-year-old mother, had prepared the blankets for a trip she wanted to take. “She’s ready to go to Vietnam,” Ms. Lu said.
But Ms. Nguyen would not be leaving. The doors were all locked from the inside to prevent her from going anywhere — not to the coating of snow that had fallen that day outside Ms. Lu’s suburban Philadelphia home, and certainly not to her home country, Vietnam.
Ms. Nguyen has Alzheimer’s disease, and Ms. Lu, 61, a manicurist who stopped working two years ago when her mother’s condition worsened, is her full-time caretaker. In Vietnam, if a couple has children, the children must stay home and care for their parents, Ms. Lu said. Elders “don’t want nursing home,” she said: Being in a nursing home creates “trouble in the head.” The family now relies financially on Ms. Lu’s husband, a construction worker.
In a country that is growing older and increasingly diverse, elder care issues are playing out with particular force and resonance for many Asian-Americans. The suicide rate for Asian-American and Pacific Islander women over 75 is almost twice that of other women the same age. In 2012, 12.3 percent of Asian-Americans over 65 lived in poverty, compared with 9.1 percent of all Americans over 65. Nearly three-quarters of the 17.3 million Asians in the United States were born abroad, and that population faces the most vexing issues.
Language barriers and cultural traditions that put a premium on living with and caring for the elderly further complicate the issue at a time when the population of older Asian-Americans is surging. According to the Administration on Aging, an agency of the Health and Human Services Department, the number of Asian, Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders over age 65 is expected to grow to 2.5 million by 2020 and 7.6 million by 2050, from less than one million in 2000.