Our saddest seniors...

It is the sorry backstory of Australia’s ageing community of migrants, and something to ponder as Strathfield celebrates NSW Seniors Week this month. 

Of those elderly people in NSW who do not live in their own homes, 67 per cent live in nursing homes. A high proportion are elderly people of Chinese, Korean or Indian background – the men and women who helped build our country.

Yet a lack of multicultural care means they will find themselves in an increasingly alien culture – alone and confused.

Strathfield is well known as a multicultural melting pot. More than half our population is made up of people of non-English-speaking background. But there are few public nursing homes to cater for the ethnic elderly, many of whom go back to their native language and cultural preferences as they age.

Doctors and other medical experts say people tend to revert to their childhood as they grow old. They favour the foods they ate and the language they spoke.

Strathfield Councillor Sang Ok tells the story of an elderly Korean man he met in a nursing home. He was the only Asian. There was no Korean food and no one for him to talk to. He longed for the food of his homeland but there was no one to cook it.

Strathfield has five aged care facilities. Only one specifically focuses on employing staff that speak a language other than English. The Jesmond Aged Care facility in Strathfield has nurses and doctors who speak Indian and Sri Lankan languages.

Strathfield’s Citizen of the Year, Dr David Tang, and Cr Ok both believe there aren’t enough places to service our ethnic communities. Reid MP Craig Laundy and Strathfield MP Charles Casuscelli have also voiced concerns about the need for language-based nursing homes.

Dr Tang, a doctor in Homebush West, recently received $12 million in funding from the federal government to start the state’s first public Vietnamese nursing home. It has taken him two years to put together his application for the grant.

“The Vietnamese elderly population is the second largest behind the Italians,” he says. “There are public nursing homes to cater for Italians but there is nothing for the Vietnamese community. I have lived in Australia for 35 years and this is the first public Vietnamese nursing home. It is a momentous achievement for the community.

“I have many elderly Vietnamese patients who I visit in Australian nursing homes. Many of them become depressed and hysterical because they are not used to the food or the language in English-speaking nursing homes. My heart breaks when
I see them break down and cry.
They can’t communicate and they feel helpless.”

Dr Tang says some of his elderly Vietnamese patients who suffer from dementia revert back to their childhood memories.

“Some of my patients who have been diagnosed with dementia were once able to speak English,” he says. “But when a dementia patient’s memory starts to fade, they may forget how to speak English and most usually revert back to their childhood language. They want to be able to eat the food that they grew up with and feel comfortable around people of the same ethnicity.

“This is a very vulnerable time of their lives and they want to be able to be comfortable and to feel like they are at home.”

Dr Tang says the nursing home will have 65 rooms and be staffed by Vietnamese-speaking nurses, carers and doctors. The menu will largely be Asian.

But he also stresses that the nursing home will be open to anyone and everyone who needs a bed. The home will be in Silverwater and building will commence in September this year. Dr Tang hopes construction will be completed in 2015.

“It’s an all-inclusive nursing home,” he says. “It is not just for the Vietnamese elderly, but for everyone. Anyone of any ethnicity is welcome.”

Cr Sang Ok says the Korean community is also looking to the government for help to get funding for a public Korean nursing home.

He says there is only one Korean nursing home in the region – but with a long waiting list and high prices, few can afford a place there. “There is one nursing home which caters for Korean elderly,” he says. “It’s not selective for just Korean elderly but it has nurses and doctors, as well as Korean food. It is a fantastic nursing home and the residents there are very happy.

“But it is based in Redfern. I am hoping we can get some funding to get a public nursing home set up nearer to Strathfield, where there is a larger Korean population.”

Cr Ok echoes the same points that Dr Tang makes about elderly patients reverting to their childhood mindset.

“We are now speaking to [various people] to get an understanding of the process of how to get some state or federal funding,” Cr Ok says. “All the different ethnic communities are working together to try to achieve this.”  He is discussing the issue with the Korean Ministerial Consultative Committee, which is overseen by the NSW Minister for Citizenship and Communities and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Victor Dominello.

“There is also a Korean senior citizens committee, which is several hundred strong. They are also petitioning for a public-funded Korean nursing home,” Cr Ok says.

Strathfield Council has several initiatives to help aged groups, including aged day care that operates out of the Community Centre three days per week, and helps people of Russian background on the fourth day. The council received funding and produced a DVD encouraging people of culturally diverse backgrounds to work in the aged care industry. ommunity, especially our elderly immigrants.”


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