Elderly Australians from diverse backgrounds call for more culturally and linguistically appropriate elderly care

Retired accountant Kranti Amar keeps his mind sharp through volunteering.

But at the age of 73, Canberra’s grandfather admitted that in a few years he will have to move into a care home.

But he says he finds the prospect daunting, due to a lack of culturally appropriate aged care facilities.

“And if the staff don’t speak your language, it could be worse than jail.

“Even food, something you’ve been eating for 60 or 70 years, and all of a sudden you get another kind of food, maybe it’s going to be too hard to digest.”

Mr Amar hopes that by the time he has to move into a care home himself, there will be more options for older people from diverse cultures and languages, and that is why he has joined a campaign by the ‘Canberra Multicultural Association.

Multigenerational households the norm

Canberra Multicultural Association President Nishi Puri cares for her 86-year-old mother Kanwal Bawa at home.(ABC News: Ben Harris)

Multicultural Association of Canberra president Nishi Puri said culturally diverse older people who entered into “one-size-fits-all Westernized” aged care could lose their identity.

She said many families choose to care for their aging parents at home instead.

Her 86-year-old mother, Kanwal Bawa, has lived with her for 28 years – and Ms Puri said it was the best option as her mother would likely be unable to speak her Hindi and Urdu in a facility.

“It would be very isolating for these elderly people to live in these circumstances and it’s definitely not good for their mental health,” Ms Puri said.

“I urge that more multicultural nursing homes be built to meet the needs of all communities.”

English speakers returning to childhood languages

A woman with short blond hair looks serious.
Juliane Samara, nurse practitioner in palliative care for the elderly, explains that many older people have arrived in Australia as refugees or asylum seekers and have suffered some level of trauma which can reappear with age.(ABC News: Andrew Kennedy)

Juliane Samara, a palliative care nurse practitioner, said a third of older Australians speak English as a second language.

She said significant language barriers could then present themselves in aged care facilities, as around half of all residents were living with dementia.

“And as the dementia progresses and they get closer to the end of life, they actually go back to their native language because their short-term memory and the skills that they learned as they got older disappear,” said said Juliana.

“It’s incredibly problematic and it really presents a lot of challenges for staff.”

Ms Samara said another complexity was that many older people arrived in Australia as refugees or asylum seekers from war-torn countries.

“They’ve been through some level of trauma – and as they get closer to end of life or the dementia progresses, those traumatic experiences may actually come back and be their primary memories,” she said. .

Is there a solution?

A dark-haired woman smiles.
Selen Akinci, who leads training at ACT and NSW aged care homes, says residents need to maintain their independence. (ABC News: Dave Sciasci)

The Department of Health has engaged several community organizations to roll out national cultural competency training to select providers, as well as provide cultural awareness resources.

Selen Akinci of the Illawarra Multicultural Communities Council oversaw the federally funded program in ACT and New South Wales.

“[Residents] must maintain their independence…and communication is key, especially in the decision-making process.”

Ms Akinci added that the aim of the program was to ensure that staff did their best to understand each person’s unique needs and intentions.

But she also acknowledged that the training “was not enough” given the number of providers to be reached and the complexity of the problem.

Ms Puri echoed the view that more should be done and hoped that culture-dedicated aged care facilities would be widely established in the future.

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