Life was not as expected in Norway. Older immigrants struggle with more chronic ailments than the rest of the population.
- On the sidewalk, a couple of older women met the older immigrant women who were traveling through the city. When they were about to cross, one of the Norwegians grabbed her bag and hit it at the immigrant women.
- Other immigrants experience Norwegians getting on the bus, not to give them their place, but to avoid sitting nearby.
These are experiences that older immigrants to Norway have shared with researchers studying the health of immigrants. Researchers believe that these experiences can trigger anxiety and depression. A combination of normal aging, low education, and poor finances may also explain why immigrants contract more chronic diseases and age faster than the rest of the population.
– Most immigrants are in good health when they come to Norway, but their health worsens after a few years here, says social anthropologist and nurse Beate Lie Sverre.
She points out that moving to a foreign country is a burden in itself. It doesn’t matter which country you come from. Regardless of whether you come as a refugee, a working immigrant or to reconnect with your family.
Sverre is an associate professor at the University of Southeast Norway (USN). She wrote her doctoral thesis on older Pakistani women in Norway and the connections between migration and health.
Together with researcher and specialist nurse Zeljka Cvetkovic, she is taking part in an open event in Drammen on Saturday under the auspices of the USN Eldreforsk research group. Cvetkovic is working on a doctoral thesis on elderly immigrants and mental health.
Many old immigrants
– Adapting to Norwegian society, combined with the attitudes you find here, is so demanding that it constitutes a health risk. The greater the distance between the culture you travel from and the culture you come to, the greater the chance of getting sick, says Sverre.
Norway’s population will be significantly larger in the coming years, and the proportion of older immigrants will increase, according to Statistics Norway (SSB). Some of the immigrants have turned 100.
Sverre points out that immigrants are generally no sicker than the rest of the population, but some groups of immigrants are more vulnerable. She refers to her own research and other research in the field. Studies from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) show, among other things, that immigrants generally reported mental illness more often than the general population, especially people from Iraq, Iran and Turkey.
– Is it a paradox that immigrants get sicker after coming here?
– No, the main reason is that most people have little education, physically demanding jobs and poor finances. Many people have little knowledge about what is good for their own body and their health.
– At first, you are very happy to come to Norway. Here there is safety and all the opportunities for work and education. But one has traveled from the known: the people, the smells, the rules, the nature, the food.
Culture shock triggers defense mechanisms
When everything in the new country is foreign, the system, the food, the language, the defense mechanisms are activated. Some get angry, others get scared. Sverre notes that the sense of loss and loss is not unusual. Faced with discriminatory attitudes in school, business, the street, the health center or work, they lose a little of themselves. It can trigger mental ailments.
She notes that many older immigrants struggle with anxiety and depression. It settles in the body as chronic musculoskeletal pain and can contribute to faster aging. Diabetes 2 and high blood pressure are also common.
I don’t know where they can get help.
– If they happen to speak to a doctor or an emergency room, they often present their problem in such a way that the doctor doesn’t understand, Sverre says.
Researcher Cvetkovic has already made some surprising findings in this regard. He has interviewed older immigrants who have lived here for many years.
– When I ask them how they experience their mental health, I get long stories about events in life. They tell of difficult relationships, difficult working conditions, crisis in life. To understand them, you have to actively listen to ask good questions.
Sverre notes that Cvetkovic’s preliminary findings suggest a pattern of complex explanations for health problems that make it difficult for GPs and healthcare professionals to understand and help.
– The GP does not have time to listen to them, so you do not ask questions either.
Myth of the good life in the extended family
Cvetkovic’s findings also show that not all older immigrants live with their extended family at all.
– Everyone I interviewed, except one, lives alone. They tell about loneliness and the fear of loneliness. They may have adult children who live in the same city or have no children in this country. Some have a bad relationship with their children.
Sverre points out that the adult children of immigrants live like most adults in Norway.
– These children also experience the pressure of time and expectations between work life, their own private life and the care of their elderly parents.
By 2060, one in four immigrants will be 70 or older. To prevent and relieve pressure on the health care system, the researchers believe that greater knowledge about the health of older immigrants will be important in the future.