To read the full version of this content please select one of the options below:

Challenges and barriers to services for immigrant seniors in Canada: “you are among others but you feel alone”

Miriam Stewart (Miriam Stewart is based in the Social Support Research Program, Faculty of Nursing and School of Public Health, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada)
Edward Shizha (Based in the Department of Contemporary Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University, Brantford, Canada)
Edward Makwarimba (Based in the Social Support Research Program, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada)
Denise Spitzer (Based in the Faculty of Social Sciences, Institute of Women's Studies, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada)
Ernest N. Khalema (Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada)
Christina D. Nsaliwa (Based at the Edmonton Immigrant Services Association, Edmonton, Canada)

International Journal of Migration, Health and Social Care

ISSN: 1747-9894

Article publication date: 21 February 2011




This paper seeks to explore varied interrelated challenges and barriers experienced by immigrant seniors.


Senior immigrants representing diverse ethnicities (Chinese, Afro Caribbean, Former Yugoslavian, Spanish) described their challenges, support needs, and barriers to service access. Service providers and policy makers from organizations serving immigrant seniors were interviewed to elicit their views on barriers to access and appropriateness of services for immigrant seniors. Qualitative methods were employed to enhance understanding of meanings, perceptions, beliefs, values, and behaviors of immigrant seniors, and investigate sensitive issues experienced by vulnerable groups. The qualitative data were subjected to thematic content analysis.


Seniors reported financial and language difficulties, health problems, discrimination, family conflicts, and social isolation. Although most immigrant seniors appreciated the standard of living in Canada and the services provided to seniors, most believed that support received was inadequate. Seniors encountered systemic (e.g. government policies), institutional (e.g. culturally inappropriate programs), and personal (e.g. transportation, language problems) barriers to accessing social and health services. Service providers and policy makers faced high costs of programs, inadequate financial and human resources, inadequate information about needs of immigrant seniors, inadequate geographical coverage, and lack of inter‐sectoral collaboration.

Practical implications

The challenges experienced by immigrant seniors have implications for programs and policies and can inform the development of culturally sensitive and appropriate services.

Social implications

The barriers encountered by service providers in assisting immigrant seniors point to the importance of inter‐sectoral coordination, cultural sensitivity training, and expansion of service providers' mandates.


This study revealed numerous unmet needs for successful acculturation of immigrant and refugee seniors in Canada. It also reveals that the most cogent and sustainable approach to close this chasm of support deficits, unattended challenges, and complex stressors is to implement a model that simultaneously addresses the three levels and use a multisectoral approach.



Stewart, M., Shizha, E., Makwarimba, E., Spitzer, D., Khalema, E.N. and Nsaliwa, C.D. (2011), "Challenges and barriers to services for immigrant seniors in Canada: “you are among others but you feel alone”", International Journal of Migration, Health and Social Care, Vol. 7 No. 1, pp. 16-32.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Related articles