Older Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States have higher rates of chronic physical illness, and of comorbidity (the presence of two or more co-occurring conditions), than the general older adult population. Such health disparities may be influenced by many overlapping factors, such as linguistic and cultural barriers, a lack of community resources, and social isolation. A pilot study published in the Journal of Public Health assessed the feasibility and effectiveness of a community-based health management program for older Chinese immigrants in the Chinatown area of Boston.
The study analyzed a six-month “Healthy Habits” program, run at a Chinatown YMCA, which provided nutritional and physical activity education, counseling, social support, and exercise to community-dwelling older adults with chronic conditions. Participants were provided six-month memberships to the YMCA for a small fee, determined on a sliding scale based on income, and individuals with financial difficulties were able to participate for free. Education and counseling were delivered in participants’ native language, and participants were encouraged to use the exercise facilities and engage in group discussions on a regular basis. Thus, the program was designed to engage participants intellectually, physically, and socially. Participants completed physical ability tests and health assessments three times: at the beginning of the study, after three months, and after six months.
Participants attended an average of 17 hour-long educational sessions and about 70 exercise visits over the six-month period. There were statistically significant improvements in physical and mental health among participants, with improvements shown in blood pressure, body mass index, depressive symptoms, and physical strength. These findings suggest that multi-component community-based interventions, delivered in participants’ native languages, may be an effective way to reduce health disparities in older adult immigrant populations.
Lu Y, DiPierro M, Chen L, et al. The evaluation of a culturally appropriate, community-based lifestyle intervention program for elderly Chinese immigrants with chronic diseases: a pilot study. Journal of Public Health. (2013). DOI: 10.1093/fdt037