Calls for more culturally appropriate aged care in Australia

The final report of the inquiry into Australia's aged care system was released on March 1. Source: Getty Images

More than 20 per cent of people over 65 in Australia were born outside of the country. The Royal Commission into aged care said Australia is not doing enough to address their needs.

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Aged care worker Franco Wong said that for the Chinese community, putting parents into a care facility is often a last resort.

“They don’t have the equipment or resources for 24/7 supervision,” he said.

He is the care coordinator at Elderly Australian Chinese Home in Sydney, one of a handful of aged care facilities catered specifically for the Chinese community in Australia.

He explains that residents' linguistic and cultural needs are addressed at the centre.

“It's important because the consumer will feel a sense of belonging.”

As part of meeting cultural needs, the centre provides familiar food, entertainment (Chinese TV shows, for example), celebrates Chinese festivals and holidays, and has staff who speak Chinese languages.

Mr Wong has worked at other non-culturally specific age care homes. He explains that while a facility can be fantastic, if cultural needs aren’t met, it can impact the person's wellbeing.

“Even though the facility might be really nice, if they can’t communicate, there can be big problems.”

The ability to be understood and to understand is central to a person’s sense of independence and wellbeing, according to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

Around 20 per cent of people aged over 65 years were born outside Australia, which equates to more than 600,000 people. 

The Royal Commission into Aged Care found that in Australian aged care, there is a lack of understanding and respect for people’s culture, background and life experiences. 

Recognising a problem, the federal government announced last month $20 million of additional funding for tailored centre-based respite care for culturally and linguistically diverse older Australians.

Dr Barbara Barbosa Neves is a senior lecturer in sociology at Monash University, specialising in ageing. She says that cultural considerations are essential in providing aged care. 

“Understanding culturally and linguistically diverse older people means that we are meeting their needs and aspirations. When we think about aged care, they have specific needs in terms of not only languages, but also diet, activity, and spiritual needs,” she said.

“So it's really important that we are understanding those needs, if we want to provide a high quality care.”

As well as aged care facilities specific to the Chinese community, there are other specialised aged care facilities for other CALD communities in Australia. 

However Dr Neves says culturally specific aged care facilities aren’t necessarily the answer to meeting the needs of an ageing CALD population. 

“These are niche services. We find that if people in those facilities are not benefiting from their services, they find it difficult to leave, because they feel there are no other options.

“We know that older people are extremely diverse, regardless of their cultural backgrounds. And so the problem that we have with aged care, particularly in Australia, is that older people are considered to be all the same, and they want the same things. It isn’t one size fits all.”

Respect for the elderly: Filial piety in China and Australia

Australia is one of many countries in the world struggling to cater for an ageing population. In China, the country has 249 million people over the age of 65 – three quarters of them still live in rural areas.

China's economic transformation has brought wrenching social change, with a nation of farmers flocking to cities, and birth restrictions wreaking havoc on traditional family structures. More children are unable to take care of their ageing parents. 

Beijing believes that the concept of filial piety - taking care of one’s elders - may be the only way to solve its ageing crisis. In 2013, it introduced its “Elderly Rights Law”.

According to the legislation, parents have the legal right to request government mediation or even file a lawsuit against children who fail to regularly drop by for a visit or give them a phone call.

Despite investing heavily in the aged care sector, Beijing wants 90 per cent of elderly people to live in their own homes in the future, with their families providing care once again.

Franco Wong says the concept of filial piety is strong in Australia, but significant care needs, and other limitations, can mean age care leaves no other choice.

“Normally in the Chinese community, we don’t really send elderly to nursing homes unless we have to. So, we support families in that way.

“Family members don’t generally like telling people they have sent their parents to aged care. 

“We see people trying to come in every day to care for their parents themselves.”

He says that it is common for family members to visit at least once a day, and Mr Wong tries his best to keep family informed of changes to the needs of their loved ones.

“As a Chinese person, we typically respect the elderly. So the work is very rewarding for us, too” he said.

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