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Study: The Challenge of Growing Old in a Foreign Country


Adapting to life in a new country is tough for people of any age, but even more so for those who are older.

A new study has examined the lives of five Iranian refugee and immigrant women between the ages of 62 and 76. According to Farimah Shakeri Shemirani and Deborah O’Connor, whose study was published in the Journal of Women & Aging, Vol. 18 (2) 2006, these women immigrated to Canada after the age of 45, and discovered their lives dominated by an overwhelming sense of loss.

"The life has turned upside down . . . we escaped from Iran and now here in Canada we are lonely . . . and alienated," one woman said.

Four of the five women have not found suitable work. They could not get their educational credentials recognized and their facility with the language is limited. The one woman, who did succeed, spoke English and came from a wealthier background.

As a result, the women feel less productive and useful. "It was very hard for me to accept that I could not find a job in my own field," one woman said.

"I could never proceed to the next level to take the nursing board exam and to be able to work as a nurse," another added.

The researchers found the age of the women limited their opportunities. "One employer didn’t want to hire me because of my age . . .. I dyed my hair but signs of aging were shown in my face. You can’t dye your age!" one woman said.

Another woman said immigration had aged her: "When I came to Canada, nobody could guess that I was a 45 year old. Everyone was thinking that I was either 30 or 32 years old . . . . Canada and all the difficulties, I experienced in this country made me age."

Still another feared the prospect of growing old in a foreign land." I think, what will happen when we are older? There is no hope here . . . when I am not able to do anything . . . I won’t be able to enjoy life anymore . . . . There is no point to continue living. I don’t want to be a burden for family or government," she said.

Yet another participant, suffering from arthritis and depression noted: " I have to do everything myself. I am finding this very difficult, as I don’t have the strength to do everything by myself."

Aging is a unique experience. And older Iranian women, who immigrate to Canada in later adulthood, confront unique issues as they age.

According to the researchers, the findings highlight the need for professionals to develop a holistic approach to understanding the aging experience and the needs of immigrant women.

"These participants clearly indicate that who they are and what they need cannot be understood without understanding their background," the researchers reported.