Nursing homes embracing ethnic customs


Tango's most famed track 'La Cumparsita' wafts across the dance floor. While pairs of elderly move naturally with the eight beat rhythm, others watch on from their wheelchairs, toes tapping. Later on, the residents will lunch on puchero, a blood sausage stew from Uruguay as Spanish cable television plays in the background.

The 84 residents at Parque Habitacional, a nursing home for elderly Spanish-speakers in Sydney's Rooty Hill, come from all over South America and Spain.  From the Asado Al horno – a black pudding with chorizo and beef ribs – to all conversations being in Spanish, everything at the home has a Latin flavour.

"In the first place, we’ve got the language and second we've got too many things in common – politics, sport. Most Spaniards - we like soccer," smiles Juan Manuel, 74, a Chilean widower who recently moved into the home.

While the elderly residents are Parque Habitacional can enjoy their traditions, other cultural groups aren’t as lucky with the majority – from the Macedonians to the Indians and Vietnamese - having no dedicated nursing homes.

According to a national aging and aged care strategy published by the Department of Health, by 2021, nearly one-third of Australians will be from a culturally and linguistically diverse background (CALD) putting strain on the system.

"It is important to be aware of religious beliefs and traditions so that you can actually provide a better service," says Rosa Colanero, CEO of Multicultural Aged Care, an organisation that trains nursing homes and community care outlets on how to deal with this diversity. She says the case of an older woman being force fed when she was trying to fast for Greek Easter – while extreme – highlights the challenges.

Colanero says food is particularly significant and despite having the best intentions, nursing homes often make the mistake of serving culturally inappropriate meals. She cites the example of rice bubbles being served for breakfast to a Chinese person who would’ve spent their life having rice porridge or sandwiches or fish fingers being served for dinner, which would be odd for many people from diverse backgrounds.

"Food is more than just having something to eat for the sake of eating, there are a whole lot of cultural aspects to eating." 

With many ethnic groups having no dedicated nursing homes to suit their needs, people from certain backgrounds are clustering in specific facilities.  And while certain groups are eager to build their own nursing homes, Colanero feels it is a "wish list", which is not very practical.

More challenging is the issue of aging people regressing to primary languages and culture, whereby they lose their ability to speak English and in some heart wrenching instances are unable to communicate with their own families.  While there has been research conducted on the phenomena in North America and the UK, Colanero says there is a need to see targeted and specific research conducted in Australia.

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