Older migrants needing aged care and their families are now even more excluded than their predecessors, because information about benefits and services is mainly online.
This is the key finding of a new research report released today by National Seniors Australia.
Head researcher, Interim Chief Executive Officer Professor John McCallum, said just like earlier generations, today’s migrants faced major issues as they aged, or if they were carers for their parents or other family members.
These included language and cultural barriers, lack of support for carers, access to services in the home, and isolation.
But the new issue, not evident in research undertaken almost 30 years ago, was the need for digital literacy to access aged care benefits and services.
The report, Dealing with Diversity: Aged care services for new and emerging groups, is one of the few focussing on migrants from the Horn of Africa countries, such as Sudan, and Myanmar (Burma).
Prof. McCallum said previous research had focussed on the issues faced by ageing migrants from mainly European and Asian countries and their families.
“But like previous migrants, recent migrants also face language and cultural barriers that affect their ability to access the aged care sector and this is often worse if they’ve spent time in refugee camps,” Prof. McCallum said.
“It can also mean people endure even longer delays than others because they have to wait for interpreting services to be available.
“Migrants often don’t know where to go for information because they lack experience in using Australian government services. And if they don’t have family members to help them, it’s even harder.”
Prof. McCallum said the research was based on a forum involving people from ‘established’ culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds (CALD), including Greek, Lebanese, Turkish Cypriot, Filipino and Salvadoran migrants. Other participants represented more recent arrivals to Australia, known as new and emerging communities (NEC).
Members of the NEC group voiced several cultural issues, such as the importance of ageing in place and dying at home, the extreme resistance of their elderly to residential aged care, and the taboo of choosing to place a family member into a residential home.
“The difficulties of caring for a family member at home can be immense for women, because they bear most of the responsibility,” Prof. McCallum said. “This is especially evident if that person has dementia, and isolation and the anxiety of leaving them at home alone are big problems.
“Even if the family member is prepared to go into residential care, there can be major problems adjusting to the language, culture and even the food if it’s not what they are used to eating in their own community.”
Prof. McCallum said many members of migrant communities advocated for grassroots, bottom-up solutions to the issues they were experiencing, and some were already actively involved in supporting their own people and CALD people generally.
Established groups of migrants were also supporting new groups, offering advice, information and encouragement locally through groups such as the Australian Unity CALD Alliance Advisory Group.
But the government could – and should – do more, given the predictable nature of issues experienced by new groups of migrants.
“Fair access for migrants who face cultural and language barriers to services such as aged care, health, translation services and digital literacy is embodied in the United Nationals Principles for Older Persons,” Prof. McCallum said.
“National Seniors also regularly receives comments from our members on the responsibility of government to migrants and support for a ‘fair go’ for everyone, regardless of who you are and where you are from.”
Prof. McCallum said the government needed to assist new arrivals to acquire digital, as well as language, skills and provide information about aged care to community intermediaries who help elderly migrants. Quicker access to interpreter services was another high priority, along with recognition by government that CALD people often need to speak through a family member/interpreter.
The government also needed to support ageing in place with additional transport services and community centres.
The full report can be read at www.nationalseniors.com.au/diversity.
Prof. John McCallum is available for interviews.
Media contact: Lynda Schekoske (07) 3233 9106 or 0488 047 380.