A growing number of older people who speak languages other than English are accessing aged care services as families, relatives and carers are unable or not willing to look after them like was traditionally expected. Communication is the single greatest barrier faced by aged care services in providing quality service to older people from non-English speaking backgrounds. As 39% of the 65+ yo population is born overseas and either doesn't speak English, has limited English proficiency or reverts to the native tongue due to the aging process and illnesses that affect cognition, like dementia etc., the issue of mental health and undiagnosed/unmanaged/untreated mental illness among this group cannot be ignored.
Entering residential care can be a very unsettling experience for everyone. The fear of the unknown, feelings of inadequacy, rejection, sadness and loss, having to leave your home forever, often against your will, and enter a facility from which you'll never exit alive are daunting and horrible realities that can affect one's mental health. If you are unable to communicate your feelings, you have no choices or control over your life and your own future.
The quality of life and quality of care for older people are both diminished when choices available to them are limited. Often people are judged based on their English language skills. Assumptions are often made about a 'group' of people. Cultural and religious notions can be important for many elderly who cannot communicate their needs (including food, fasting periods, eating habits, times for meals etc). Culture and religion may influence how many people respond to family obligations, aging, aged care, mental illness, disease, disability and death.
How do we make sure that elderly from diverse backgrounds feel comfortable in stating their needs and that we do our best to address these? How can we try to learn and understand about mental illness in other cultures when there are more than 200 ethnicities in Australia? And, how can we make sure we don't label or stereotype people, keeping in mind that not everyone identifies or is connected with their own culture or community?
I am aware that what is considered acceptable in terms of behavior and social etiquette varies among different cultures. I do not believe that accomodating special needs of people amounts to giving them preferential treatment. I believe that some practices can disadvantage people from non-dominant backgrounds. Any thoughts?