The man’s story will likely become more common in the Chinese American community. A study from Rutgers University found the population of Chinese American elders has grown at a rate four times higher than the general older adult population.
“As this population ages, they are increasingly susceptible to memory loss and lacking the necessary supports for healthy aging,” the study states. The researchers published their study in a special issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society on memory loss and dementia among older Chinese Americans.
Yiwei Chen served as lead author on three of the research studies in the special issue, Transforming Asian Health Equity
“I found that high levels of perceived stress are associated with poor cognitive function among older Chinese Americans,” Chen told AsAmNews. She found that stress can be due to linguistic and cultural barriers.
“Even everyday kind of tasks like going to doctors for health checkups, [they] need to describe [their] symptoms. That requires language proficiency.” Chen said sometimes they’ll expect their adult children to support them with translation, or transportation to medical visits, but these can trigger conflict if their adult children are unable to provide that kind of support, or if expectations are mismatched due to generational or cultural differences.
Asian Americans make up 6% of the national population, but they remain an understudied group among clinical research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), making up only 0.17% of the total NIH research funding budget from 1992 to 2018, as reported by AsAmNews. The NIH defended their funding practices, saying “disease affects all populations” and citing that 9% of all participants in NIH-funded clinical research in 2018 were Asian.
But Chen didn’t think this was adequate. “You can’t just apply what you found in the general American population to this specific population,” she said. She pointed out that many clinical trials exclude people who don’t speak English, and even for those who are fluent in English, cognitive tests may be biased with certain cultural knowledge that older Chinese Americans don’t have.
Dr. XinQi Dong of Rutgers University was even more emphatic. “Do you think we all have the same cultural customs…and family values?…Do you think we don’t…digest and metabolize medications differently? There’s plenty of evidence that suggests there are ample differences…. If the U.S. is a melting pot… then why shouldn’t we truly understand the culturally nuanced issues in the Chinese and Asian populations?”
Dr. Dong is the principle investigator of the Population Study of Chinese Elderly, or PINE. “PINE is the largest longitudinal cohort study to ever exist in the Western Hemisphere, that studies the health…of Chinese Americans in the United States,” Dong explained.
Dong spearheaded the creation of PINE because he saw a dearth in this kind of research. “The primary purpose of the PINE study is to understand the intersections of cultural and social determinants of family conflict, intergenerational relationships and mental health outcomes,” he said.