Ageing multicultural population struggles to find appropriate aged care

Australia has few policies to specifically help senior citizens from culturally-diverse backgrounds lead fruitful lives, researchers and multicultural organisations have said.

Australia has both a multicultural and ageing society, with the population aged over 75 years expected to grow significantly over coming decades.

Dr Daniela Cosmini-Rose, from Flinders University, has studied the Italian-born community in South Australia, which along with being one of the state's largest cultural groups, is mostly aged above 65 years old.

"They're still quite independent, but perhaps starting to deal with problems that might arise in older age," she said.

"A lot of Italian-born are able to communicate in English, but in this cohort, the language barrier represents a challenge and they might not be familiar with [filling out] forms or visiting a specialist."

In addition to language barriers, some people will struggle to find appropriate aged care.

"In terms of eating all'italiana, to eat Italian food, is something that is very important to them, so if they have to go to a nursing home perhaps, where Italian food is not provided, that might represent a problem for them," Dr Cosmini-Rose said.

She said many Italian-born Australians failed to get a good grasp on English because they worked as labourers or stuck to their social groups.

Dr Cosmini-Rose added some people may be too proud to ask for help.

Reducing isolation improves wellbeing

Multicultural Communities Council of SA's Helena Kyriazopoulos echoed concerns about health and aged care.

PHOTO: Miriam Hocking and Helena Kyriazopoulos work to improve the quality of life for older people from diverse cultural groups. (ABC News: Tom Fedorowytsch)

"It's becoming quite challenging, financially, to maintain these services, because it's becoming far more expensive, and also they are challenged with staffing," she said.

"They need to understand the individual, who they are, being respectful for their past and their current present, in order to be able to accommodate their specific needs.

"If that individual needs language assistance, for us to be able to accommodate them, it's really important.

"If it means having appropriate food for them ... or attending to their spiritual needs, that's very important, because it gives them their wellbeing and resilience in their community."

The council runs a community visitor program to connect older people with younger adults who share the same tongue.

"We recruit volunteers and visit people in a nursing home, to prevent isolation," the council's Miriam Hocking said.

"Let's say you have a Lithuanian background, and you revert to your language ... so we recruit a volunteer that can speak that language and communicate with you.

"You're just giving them an hour of your time so that they will feel needed and part of the community still."

One self-described nonna, Giuseppina Colarusso, said she loved her life in Adelaide.

"I go back to Italy for holidays, but I like to stay here, and it doesn't matter if I don't speak very good English," she said.

Dr Cosmini-Rose, who has compiled her findings in a book on the ageing Italian-Australian community, hopes more dialogue will create policies to solve some of the problems facing older migrant communities.


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