Teaming up to Care for Nikkei Seniors
Cathy Makihara + Ruth Nakatani Coles
Ruth Coles and Cathy Makihara huddle over some charts and other data on Cathy’s desk at Nikkei Home. The data has been collated from the 2012 Nikkei Seniors Needs Survey and they are looking at ways that it can be used to better-serve the seniors under their care. The two having been working together in various capacities for over fifteen years, their common bond a commitment to serving the seniors in the Japanese Canadian community. Today the two work more closely than ever in their current roles—Ruth as President of the Nikkei Seniors Health Care and Housing Society and Cathy as Executive Director (she is also President of the Nikkei National Museum & Cultural Centre).
Both Cathy and Ruth, along with many others in the community, played key roles in getting first New Sakura-so and then Nikkei Home built and functioning, with each residence serving a much-needed role in the community. The New Sakura-so seniors residence provides housing for independent seniors while Nikkei Home provides an assisted living environment for seniors who are largely independent but need assistance with some day-to-day activities.
Although both residences are operating successfully they know that there is much more work to be done when it comes to providing the care that our seniors need and deserve.
With the results of the survey having been made public and shared with other community organizations, and new programs for independent seniors put into place over the past few months, they are turning their sights on their next ambitious project—to secure funding from the Fraser Health Authority to develop a dementia unit within Nikkei Home, and the support of the community to build it.
Along with their Board of Directors and their core of dedicated volunteers, Cathy and Ruth look forward to bringing in new programs and initiatives that serve to embody the principles of Independence, Respect, Dignity, Privacy, Choice – five cornerstones of adulthood that are too often forgotten when the time comes to face the changes in lifestyle that are a natural part of aging.
Over the next months The Bulletin will be publishing extracts from the 2012 Nikkei Seniors Needs Survey, with the extracts ultimately being published in a book early next year.
Cathy and Ruth sat down with The Bulletin to talk about the work they are doing with Nikkei seniors.
Interview: Cathy Makihara + Ruth Nakatani Coles
Can you each tell me a little about yourselves?
Cathy Makihara I was born in Vancouver and went to school on the east side. I would say it was more or less a typical immigrant family upbringing, it was based on working hard at school, trying to feel confident in writing English, and learning to fit in. I didn’t have much of an extended family, so even today I am very close to my family. We depend on each other for many things, each of us having strengths and helping each other in various ways.
Ruth Nakatani Coles I was born in Winfield, the younger of two daughters born to Esumatsu and Yasu Nakatani. My elementary school years were spent in Grand Forks, moving to Steveston to complete my last two years of high school, then attending UBC and on to U of Toronto for my degree in social work. I worked for over 30 years in the health care field. I am married to Michael and we have two children, Susan and Robert. Both are married and live away from Canada, so we spend a great deal of time travelling to maintain our ties.
The importance of family, both immediate and extended, as well as our involvement in the Christain faith have been major influences in my life. I have learned the values of caring and supporting each other; the importance of giving and reaching out to others, and perseverance and cooperation.
You have both been involved with seniors’ health for many years. What is it that feeds your passion for helping our elders?
CM I really believe my passion for trying to find practical ways to help seniors comes from helping my parents growing up. Language and culture were barriers to inclusion but also presented difficulties in accessing and navigating services available to them. While in high school and university I worked almost entirely with the Vancouver Parks Board system working with young people. Soon after finishing university, I worked at the Vancouver Japanese Canadian Redress Implementation field office. It was there the stories of triumph and difficulties of the Issei and Nisei helped me set a direction for my work and life passion. The combined experience of life and work has brought me here.
RNC Throughout my personal and working life, I have met many seniors who have inspired me with courage, hard work and optimism in spite of the challenges they faced. My parents for one, dedicated their lives for their family and for assisting others in need, particularly through the difficult evacuation and relocation periods. I have met many seniors who have faced tragedies and illnesses, and they have shown me the resilience of the human spirit. It would be nice for me to make some small contribution to the lives of others and working with seniors has given me such a purpose.
Last year you put together a comprehensive health care survey for seniors and their families. What was the response like?
RNC We were overwhelmed with the interest and the response to the survey. Over 600 seniors responded so it was gratifying that seniors wanted to let us know what their thoughts were and assist us in our future deliberations.
Was there anything about the results of the survey that surprised you?
RNC What surprised me was the strong confirmation of what we believed, that is, seniors are wanting to stay as independent as possible and that they wished to live and receive help in their homes should their health begin to decline. Also, our seniors are scattered throughout the Lower Mainland and if we wished to provide assistance to them, it would need to be done in cooperation with other organizations. No one organization or service can meet all the needs that were identified.
CM I was surprised that there was an equal number of seniors whose primary language is either Japanese or English. Also interesting was that close to 97% live in apartments, multiple dwelling or a house who on average were about 75 years old. The change to supportive living either in the form health care or assisted living seems to be occurring at about 82 years of age. We’ll need to look at what is happening from the early-mid 70s and identify what is triggering the move to supportive living, and as a community putting in place supportive programs.
Are there things about the survey that changed the way you’re looking at providing care for seniors?
CM The seniors of our community are split almost equally with English and Japanese speaking. This means that it is essential that the care we provide needs to have Japanese culture as well as Canadian culture when providing care. The survey showed that we have many seniors who participate in programs and activities and live in their own homes, and that in order to maintain that independence, as a community we must be age friendly. This means not only the seniors centres, but every service, meeting place, transportation, etc. which a senior depends on when living independently.
Is there anything culturally specific about Japanese Canadians that you have to take into consideration when looking at the needs of seniors?
CM We always begin with what can a senior do, and to plan around those abilities so that seniors can stay independent and enjoy quality of life whether it’s at Nikkei Home Assisted Living, New Sakura-so, or in our outreach activities such Kui Do Raku or Iki Iki. Within that philosophy is the need to be culturally appropriate, provide a bilingual environment and keep with the five principles of dignity, respect, individuality, privacy and choice.
The Nikkei Seniors Health Care and Housing Society is preparing a new level of care at Nikkei Home – looking after seniors suffering from dementia. What brought about this project and how will it be implemented?
CM It’s been almost from the beginning, when the first residents of Nikkei Home Assisted Living moved in and from experiencing the changes of some of the tenants at New Sakura-so, there has been a reality of supporting the needs of seniors with dementia. We saw more and more seniors with Alzheimer’s. I have to admit, when a resident has to leave Nikkei Home because we are not licensed to provide this type of care, it has been heart breaking, mostly for the senior, but also the families, our staff and volunteers. I often feel we let the seniors and their families down. So, we have been in discussions and have presented a business case to renovate and have licensed a 15-unit home that can specifically look after seniors with moderate dementia.
We’re going to be publishing the results of the survey in The Bulletin over the coming months, culminating in a book sometime next year. What do you hope to accomplish by publishing the results?
CM The data we’ve collected was meant to be used as information, to inspire other organizations and volunteers to find new ways to help seniors remain independent.
Is there anything else that is being done with the date you collected?
CM This year, we started an all-in-one exercise, lunch and health chat weekly program held at Nikkei Centre. So many interesting talks for seniors, topics that help seniors with everyday information for navigating the health system or to help themselves. Also, we will be repeating Iki Iki, a weekly program opening Nikkei Home activities to those seniors with dementia or mobility issues. As well, we have been in regular meetings with Tonari Gumi, Nikka Health and Steveston Community Centre and helping each other help seniors.
I imagine there are a fair numbers of readers out there with aging relatives, or are aging themselves. Is there somewhere they can go for advice and help?
CM This is a challenging area for anybody. An aging relative is not just a health care matter but it affects every area of life – you can see that it’s maintaining the house, emergency response, paying bills, going out shopping, seeing friends, losing friends – it is an immense area. In our community, we have Tonari Gumi providing direct service and programming; Steveston Community Centre working with the Steveston Japanese Cultural Centre in providing programs, and Nikka Health Care Society offering health and prevention information. It’s possible to call all our organization or the above for information. Also, families can call the local health authorities in the area serving where the seniors lives to arrange an assessment for home support or to find out what services are available for seniors. One service available in the Lower Mainland which people should know about is ‘BC211.’ Any person can dial ‘211’ any hour of the day, and describe what you are having difficulty with, and receive information about what social services and government services are available, and connect those services to the senior and the community.
What brings you the most satisfaction in your work with seniors in the community?
RNC I think we all want to make a difference in the lives of others, whether it is our family, friends or people we may come in contact with on a daily basis. I find satisfaction when I see the pleasure on the faces of seniors when staff or volunteers are greeting or helping them. I find satisfaction in seeing families who feel that a service we have provided provides them with support and knowing that they are not alone. I hope we will continue to make a positive difference in the lives of our seniors and families in the years to come.