SUBJECTS: Cultural diversity in aged care 

WENDY HARMER: Now let's talk about this issue: diversity in aged care. We've got a rapidly ageing population in Australia, we're told that all the time, and how to provide the best aged care for seniors is always on the agenda isn't it. It's a serious issue. Big cuts have been made to both private and the public aged care industry, and on top of this, community groups in Western Sydney are reporting that there is a dire need for aged care centres that cater specifically for the needs of people with cultural backgrounds, with specific cultural backgrounds. Especially, I read, those from India and the Sub-Continent. It's an issue that affects the local community of Federal Member for Greenway, Michelle Rowland, and she joins us now from Canberra. Good morning, Michelle.


HARMER: Now you've really turned your eye on this one. What are you hearing from the locals?

ROWLAND: Blacktown is one of the biggest Local Government Areas in the country actually, and while we have a really diverse population in Blacktown, the most common surname isn't Smith or Jones, it's actually Singh, a Sikh or Punjabi name. I think we need to recognise, Wendy, everyone is different but we have a situation where we've got a lot of people who have migrated particularly from the Sub-Continent. As they age, there are different needs that are imposed on themselves and also their families. I think it's important to recognise firstly that everyone is different, and there are different types of aged care. Aged care can be activity-based, it can be full-time residential care, it can be respite accommodation, but I'll tell you this Wendy; the number of people I speak to these days who are squeezed, who have their own children, who have elderly parents, and who are finding the logistics of life sometimes very overwhelming. This is going under the radar but I think it definitely needs to be high on every government's agenda.

HARMER: Yes, it's interesting isn't it, because people would say why can't we just have aged care for every cultural group and all mix in together but I think that there must be an enormous comfort to be with your cultural group as you get older, especially if you don't have a good grasp of the language or especially if you have dementia, to be within your cultural group would be a very comforting thing.

ROWLAND: You're right, Wendy, there's particular challenges when you've got people from different cultural backgrounds because with early onset dementia experts will tell you one of the first things to go is your second language. So you may well be quite fluent in English but I've even heard stories of people reverting to local dialects as they are impacted by dementia and other diseases. There's issues like food, customs and other cultures, but I think the important thing to note is the feedback that I get from people utilising the sector is we need to invest in our workforce to make sure that we've got good providers who are aware of this and some of them are very good. My colleague, Julie Collins, has a Senate Inquiry underway at the moment into this. But it is a challenge for us to ensure that everyone who needs care and particular types of care can be met.

HARMER: If you would like to give us a call and tell us what your experiences are I'd love to hear from you. Just reading what some of the locals in the Indian community have had to say, they say of course the tradition in India is that you will live with your parents but the pressures of life in Australia with travelling and so forth, they're really quite different and travelling to work and extended hours and so forth, and it really does get difficult to look after parents in their own homes.

ROWLAND: This is exactly the feedback I'm getting from people like Mr Jay Raman from the Sri Om Foundation, this is an organisation that I don't believe receives any government assistance and they have been very active in listening to the community and doing what they can to meet needs. But they are telling me there's huge demand now and there's going to be even more demand as our population ages and we do become more diverse, and I believe this is an area we seriously need to stop just talking about and really start mapping out a really strong plan.

HARMER: I just have a text here, someone says "people from every group are welcome in all aged care facilities, is it time to integrate?" That I guess as we've just been saying is a bit of a fundamental misunderstanding of what's required.

ROWLAND: I think everyone is different and if we've got two things, if we've got an assurance that across all of our workforce we have people trained to be able to cater to different needs we need that. But also the idea of having culturally-specific aged care is actually not new, you'll be aware that for some of our older cohorts of migrants they have often very specific and even sometimes they're based on religion as well.

HARMER: Yes of course. I was mentioning earlier about Dee Why being a hub for the Italian community and I know there are specific aged care for folks from an Italian background, or Jewish, or Catholic, or whatever it might be. As you say, not a new thing.


HARMER: Can you tell us something about the rate of people who are coming from India and the Sub-Continent to join up with their families?

ROWLAND: Recently India overtook the UK as the largest source of permanent migration and we await to see the most recent Census figures, hopefully they will be sufficiently robust to be able to make assessments on what we can predict going forward but here's one that you might not be aware of Wendy: the single largest growing ethnic population in Australia is actually the Nepalese community, so there's all these factors we need to ensure we have right statistics so that we can make good judgements as governments so policy makers can cater to those. But I think the first thing we need to recognise is that everyone is different and these issues are not going to go away unless they are properly addressed with a coherent plan.

HARMER: Let's talk to Jen, hi Jen.

CALLER: Hi, good morning.

HARMER: You're from the Chinese community?

CALLER: Yes, yes, I was just listening to your program and I thought it was very good so I was just making this call.

HARMER: Oh good, what would you like to add, Jen?

CALLER: My father is 96 and he has dementia but he is still physically very healthy, just memory loss, but the Chinese community in Burwood, in the nursing home there, there's an activity centre there, it's called the So Wai Activity Centre, they are really, really helpful and they can pick up for delivery Monday, Wednesday, Friday, now they've got Saturday and every Tuesday they organise whatever the elderly people can do, they take them on day trips. Every Tuesday they receive something, take them to the gardens to look at flowers.

HARMER: Does he enjoy being with others from the Chinese community Jen?

CALLER: Yes, he really loves it. Every day he sits on the balcony waiting for it, every day. So for me it's relief, you know, because he's old and it's very stressful when you look after dementia people. Because their group is all like 80s, 70s, late 70s, 80s, 90s, so they have something in common, they can talk. Especially when you talk about a second language, for people with dementia they've forgotten their second language.

HARMER: That's it, as we've just mentioned. Thanks very much for that Jen. That brings up another element I guess, Michelle, these are these respite centres and I know that in Blacktown there's the Sri Om respite centre and they take seniors from India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Singapore and they all get in for respite care and share stories and so on. So it's a very complex and diverse centre.

ROWLAND: It's certainly is and I've visited there on a number of occasions and I think the interactions that older people have with one another is absolutely beneficial for keeping their minds alert, they do exercises to keep their bodies fit, and I think this overall approach as Labor in government instigated Living Longer, Living Better. It is recognising that we are living longer and we can't just assume that older people want to sit around and be inactive. In fact I find I have come across very few older people for whom that is their desired way of life. And I think as we do get older, as medical advances become more and more prevalent, we should be making the most of our older generation.

HARMER: And you're asking the Federal Government to put in more money to facilitate opening these centres, is that correct?

ROWLAND: That would be a good start, but we also took to the election a very comprehensive policy about supporting culturally diverse communities in aged care and I think the important thing Wendy is to recognise, as I said earlier, there are different forms of care. It's not a one size fits all. It's vitally important to go into local communities and ask them what they need, rather than impose a model from above.

HARMER: I have a text here from Vicky, she says "my husband's family are Hungarians and went to an aged care centre for Hungarians and when we visited the elderly would talk Hungarian as they thought they were little kids again and reverted to their birth language. I'm from a Spanish speaking country and I would love an aged care Spanish facility when I am old." Let's talk to Lynn. Hello Lynn.

CALLER: Hello Wendy.

HARMER: You have worked in a hospital, yeah?

CALLER: Yes, I have and I think it's very important for people to be in groups where they feel culturally happy because it's a very vulnerable stage of life and people have different cultures, different ways of visiting hospitals, and what can be very comfortable to east European people can be very distressing to Anglo-Celtic type people who often go back to more the kind of thing they grew up with. They're much more comfortable.

HARMER: Yeah, and I guess they're all those mores around dress and observation of religion and all that, they're all important.

CALLER: Yes, but also there can be lots and lots of visitors for some groups. And that can be very distressing for people who feel much more private. And I've seen patients leaving the ward to get some peace because of the noise, which is great for the person who has been visited but not for the others.

HARMER: Thank you. Thank you for that. Peter from Kurrajong has sent a text. he says "Hi Wendy, the ageing Aboriginals in Western Sydney would really benefit from a well-designed and communal style aged care infrastructure which encourages strong family networking. It's very underrated in this community," says Peter. And Michelle joins us as well, hello Michelle.

CALLER: Hi Wendy, I was just calling to say I totally agree with all the comments this morning and I come from a community where everybody is deaf and I'm in my fifties and I'm just watching my parents and their peers starting to have to think about aged care and some of them have gone into aged care. And there is a little aged care place out in Blacktown called Mullauna where a lot of them try to congregate so they can be together but the places there are so limited that there are many deaf people that have to end up in nursing homes where they're the only deaf person.

HARMER: Gee, that must be incredibly isolating. That would be really difficult.

CALLER: It's terribly isolating but it's also given me some food for thought on the comments this morning because my first language is actually Auslan, sign language, and I wonder as I get older if I become a bit demented, whether I'll lose my grasp of English and I'll just revert to signing, so it's going to be interesting to watch. Watch this space.

HARMER: Yeah, we will. Thank you for that. And thank you for joining us Greenway Labor MP Michelle Rowland. Where are you taking this Michelle?

ROWLAND: I would really appreciate feedback from the community about how to push this forward. As I said we've got a number of people who have been very active in this area but good policy making really requires strong listening to people on the ground. I'm easy to find on the internet and Facebook and so forth and I'd be really interested in people's feedback.

HARMER: Good on you, thanks very much for joining us this morning.

ROWLAND: My pleasure, Wendy.