Skip to content

A look at wellness and our diverse older adult communities

Alicia Colombo

By Mary Anna Rodabaugh

Philadelphia is home to many different ethnically and racially diverse communities. Each of these communities faces its own set of unique health and wellness challenges.

“Often, language access is just the start – as individuals struggle to find interpreters or doctors who speak their preferred language,” says Antionette Kraus, executive director, Pennsylvania Health Access Network. “Some may have limited or no literacy which comes with stigmas so they may hesitate to share vision and hearing problems that come with age. This can add to those barriers to communicate with providers effectively.”

Kraus says that there are also cultural barriers to understanding payments and the insurance system as well. Thankfully, there are community-based organizations throughout Philadelphia that work together to support the wellness needs of ethically and racially diverse older adult communities. To meet those needs, it is important to understand some of the unique issues these communities may face.

Cultural barriers, predispositions
While there are far too many unique wellness challenges impacting racially diverse communities in Philadelphia, there are some prominent issues to note.

“Chinese older adults often face linguistic and cultural barriers in Philadelphia,” says Dr. Esther Hio-Tong Castillo, founder and program director of Chinese Immigrant Families Wellness Initiative. “More specifically culturally sensitive screening and health services remain inadequate, leading to a higher risk of chronic health conditions and early death.”

Since traditional cultural values often prevent Chinese older adults from disclosing potential abuse to maintain family harmony, elder abuse, both physical and psychological, and intimate partner violence are likely to go unreported. The National Council on Aging states older Asian Americans have some of the lowest recorded rates of mental health issues compared to other racial groups, yet older Asian American women have one of the highest rates of suicides.

Hispanic older adults are at a higher risk for obesity and high blood pressure, among other conditions. Philadelphia’s Community Health Needs Assessment findings show older Latinos struggling to afford and manage their medications, pay copayments, and lack access to healthy food. There are older adults who participate in food access programs, but the food they receive may not be culturally appropriate, or may not include fresh and nutritious produce.

The Stanford School of Medicine determined Asian Indians are a high risk for insulin resistance leading to Type 2 diabetes. Ethnic predisposition, diet, and exercise are to blame. Also, immigrant Asian Indian men have a high prevalence of coronary heart disease.

According to research by the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke increase among aging African American adults. This is due to poor blood pressure control and diabetes prevention. In fact, diabetes is one of the leading causes of death among African Americans aged 65 and older.

PRB promotes and supports evidence-based policies, practices decision making to improve the help and well-being of people throughout the world.

The publication stated African American older adults experience a rapid decline in the body’s ability to repair and recover from stress or damage. This may be due to lifestyle and health care factors as well as chronic stress, financial hardship, and poor management of chronic conditions.

Working to meet needs
The Penn Asian Senior Services (PASSI), Esperanza Health Center serving the Hispanic community, and the Black Women’s Health Alliance, are just three health care providers or community-based organizations who offer social support and wellness resources.

Support for diverse communities goes beyond the city-level. “The Pennsylvania Department of Health Office of Health Equity has a mission to reduce health disparities for vulnerable communities across the state,” says David Saunders, director of the office of health equity. “We consider racial and ethnic minorities vulnerable due to historic impediments rooted in racist ideologies. As vulnerable populations intersect, those who are over 65 and part of a racial or ethnic minority group require targeted initiatives that are cognizant of their specific needs.”

Older adults, caregivers and health care practitioners must work together in the future to learn more about the unique, individual health needs, and use a comprehensive approach to provide support.

Local resources

Penn-Asian Senior Services: 215-572-1234 |

Esperanza Health Center: 215-302-3600 |

Black Women’s Health Alliance: 215-225-0394 |

PA Department of Health Office of Health Equity: 717-547-3315 |

Mary Anna Rodabaugh is a writer, editor and writing coach.

Categories: Health Milestones eNews


You are using an unsupported version of Internet Explorer. To ensure security, performance, and full functionality, please upgrade to an up-to-date browser.