Chapter 4: Family Dynamics – Working with Seniors


Rennais Gayle

Settlement experiences among older immigrants who migrate late in life vary based on immigration class, traditions in the country of origin, pre-existing supports, and socioeconomic outlook. Sheets & Gallagher (2013) report that “Migration accounts for about two thirds of the total population growth in Canada. Ethnic diversity is increasing, and by 2031, approximately 28% of the population will be foreign born” (p. 2). Before delving into this chapter, it is important to explore the definition of a senior and decolonizing our understanding of age and social status (Kennedy, McGowan, & El-Hussein, 2020). Becoming a senior in Canada is generally seen as a life stage that is based on a retirement system; that is, when one reaches 65 years of age and accesses a pension plan (Sheets & Gallagher, 2012, pp. 3–4).

In the Indigenous Canadian context, an Elder is someone who is able to offer a high degree of understanding of First Nations, Métis, or Inuit history, traditional teachings, ceremonies, and healing practices. Elders are the keepers of traditional knowledge, and their social position is not necessarily based on being a specific age. Kennedy, McGowan, and El-Hussein (2020) share that Indigenous knowledge is an opportunity to decolonize western perspectives of who is considered an Elder (p. 2). Nyamweru and Chidongo (2018) use the terms Elders and Councils of Elders to describe categories of Kenyan Elders who have positive roles in media and among younger people, as well as influence in society (p. 242). Elders from Nyamweru and Chidongo’s (2018) research are immediate family members who provide moral and extended parental guidance, whereas a Community of Elders (CoE) plays an important community role or is made up of Knowledge Keepers for important rites of passage, particularly in specific ethnic clans (p. 243).

In this chapter, an Elder is defined as someone who is the keeper of cultural traditions and may have gone through a life cycle to retirement. Elders are regarded as a point of cultural or traditional reference among immediate family and/or their own ethnocultural community. This definition will be used to contextualize the settlement experiences of older immigrants living in Canada. The images in Figure 1 provide a visual representation of the core discussion areas about immigrant seniors in Canada.

Specific Learning Outcomes

By the end of this chapter, you should be able to

  • Examine various settlement and resettlement experiences of immigrant seniors to build an understanding of client needs
  • Apply theories in communicating with immigrant seniors
  • Reflect on biases, microaggressions, and stereotyping, and their impacts on immigrant seniors
  • Plan for action to solve problems using settlement case studies
Settlement Experiences of Seniors in Canada Cross-Cultural and Intercultural Frameworks for Communication
Evaluating Client Needs Problem-Solving Challenging Situations

Figure 1: Chapter topics – These figures represent the topics discussed in this chapter.

Key Terms and Definitions

Key Terms Definition


To blend into or assimilate into a dominant and different culture
Aging in place The process of aging in a familiar home or country of origin, which is within a supporting environment and community
Aging out of place The process of aging that takes place outside one’s country of origin, which usually results in increased social, psychological, physical, and financial stress that otherwise would not occur if one had remained in one’s country of origin
Communication Accommodation Theory Behavioural changes that people make in relation to the social status of the sender of a message and the receiver of the message
Continuity Theory


The natural occurrences of aging when older adults maintain the same activities, behaviours, and relationships as they had in the earlier parts of their lives
Exchange Theory Aging occurrences that take place when one ages out of place
Healthy aging


The normal cycle of aging based on social and physical independence
Life course Theory


A theory on the four stages of life, which include childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and aging
Local immigrant partnership


A partnership designed to plan settlement for newcomers in welcoming communities in which they intend to live, work, play, and participate


A verbal statement or action that is hostile, derogatory, or negative towards someone; can be subtle, indirect, or unintentional and are against marginalized groups of people


The co-existence and celebration of many diverse cultures that intersect across race, ethnicity, religion, cultural values, and language


An oversimplified assumption or understanding about a person or group of people
Welcoming community A community in which citizens and members of the community feel safe, respected, and comfortable to express themselves and feel a sense of belonging

Image Credits (images listed in order of appearance)

AirPlane by xfaststyle, CC BY 3.0 Unported licence

CommunicationProcessModel by Amazonnews, CC0 1.0 Public Domain licence

Evaluation by geralt, Pixabay licence

Problem solving by geralt, Pixabay licence

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