Aged care and diverse communities.

By 2011, a quarter of Australian seniors will be from non-Anglo ethnic backgrounds. When they access the aged care system, they want to communicate in their first language, eat traditional foods, celebrate traditional customs, practice a specific faith, and socialise with people from their own ethnic community. The degree to which they can do all of these things will shape the quality of life they experience.

Ellis Jones spoke with representatives from two leading community organisations developing ethnic care responses: Wendy Bennett, sustainability manager from Australian-Polish Community Services (APCS), and Mark Anderson, CEO of Doutta Galla, a provider with seven facilities in Melbourne’s diverse western suburbs. Here are a few tips for shaping ethnic care in the new year.

1) Make no assumptions
Not all Asians eat with chopsticks; not all Europeans enjoy Bocce. Cultural needs are influenced by a range of factors besides ethnicity or country of birth. Length of residence and point of arrival in Australia, religion and depth of identification with mainstream Australian culture can affect cultural identification and care needs. While it is not possible for carers to know about or cater for every resident’s cultural needs, staff should be briefed not to make assumptions based on stereotypes. Always start with a clean slate and ask residents or families about care preferences.

2) Enabling communication

As people get older, they often prefer to use their native tongue. Being able to communicate and access accurate information in one’s preferred language is key to quality of life.

Perform a cultural audit matching the ethnicity of residents in each facility and the surrounding community with staff and volunteer cultural profiles. Facilitate everyday communication between residents and staff with language cards and communication boards that contain basic words in various languages. These can be sourced from ethnic associations, such as APCS.

For conversations about clinical care, use qualified translators. While family and volunteers can act as interpreters, they do not have the technical knowledge to interpret a diagnosis or medical report. They can also distort information exchange, sometimes willingly.

3) Community partners

Go forth into the local community and establish bonds with local ethnic cultural groups. They will act as advocates, referrers of new residents and a source pool for volunteers.

4) The little things that count
A wedge of lemon with apple tea, a DVD by Emir Kusturica, a visit to the Ukrainian Club, the latest Il Globo newspaper – find out what brings a smile to residents from non-English speaking backgrounds and share it with the entire facility. After all, ‘variety is the spice of life’.

Ellis Jones has developed a program to assist aged care providers in matching organisational capacity to the needs of local ethnic communities to create efficiencies, drive down costs and provide optimum care.