The average lifespan of elders in Laos was 56 years old, but improved dramatically since arrival in the US but presents new challenges and opportunities with the increased life-spans but limited models for extended elder presence in the home and community. Many Lao elders have limited education and English fluency. A significant number survived torture and other traumas from the conflict, in addition to depression and post-traumatic stress disorders.
Few in the Lao refugee community gained advanced education before fleeing our homeland. Class and cultural norms for civic engagement, and linguistic dissimilarities between European American languages and Lao languages increase difficulties of adaptation. Many remain victims of the digital divide, with limited access to technology resources to connect them to key services and limited understanding of their rights and opportunities.
Currently, 1,500 Lao elders 60 years of age or older live in the seven country metro area. It is often difficult to find qualified human services personnel to reach Lao in rural locations.
Many who arrived in the 1980s and 90s are now in their sixties and find themselves isolated and alone due to family separation and disintegration, living in public housing on public assistance. This has significant consequences in term of their mental health.
The US Surgeon General warns, “Many Southeast Asian refugees are at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) associated with trauma experienced before and after immigration to the U.S. One study found that 70% of Southeast Asian refugees receiving mental health care met diagnostic criteria for PTSD.”
Early resettlement efforts made little effort to document and identify elder health and social issues or to examine options for engaging the elder community with dignity in a culturally appropriate manner.
There are few resources and methods that have been developed as best practices to reduce elder stress and improve health and access to services, and few have been effectively developed to keep elders active at meaningful levels within an intergenerational and intercultural context.