The elderly in the Greek community of Melbourne and wider Victoria face an increasing number of challenges when faced with the reality of their growing needs as they age. Despite the attempts of consecutive governments and industry peak bodies to address these needs through the development and adaptation of aged care policy, older adults from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds face unique challenges and are accordingly identified as belonging to groups in our society with special needs.

From the late 1970’s, Fronditha Care has advocated to change entrenched ideas in aged care and to bring attention to the unique challenges of ageing in a foreign land. The establishment of Fronditha Care and of other culturally-specific organisations has made significant inroads to address these challenges.

Despite the firm establishment of both culturally appropriate residential care facilities and home care services for seniors of a Greek cultural background, and attempts to educate and support the community to access these services throughout the Melbourne metropolitan area, many new challenges have emerged and many more persist.

These include:

  • An increasing need to access the health care system in times of crisis and through the experience of chronic health problems;
  • A lack of understanding of the aged care system and how to navigate the system to receive services for which they are eligible; increasing frailty due to the ageing of the population;
  • Increasing rates of social isolation, loneliness and depression as families fragment and children no longer provide ongoing care of their parents;
  • Low incomes, particularly Greek older women who live in poverty;
  • Lack of mental health services and psychologists working with the elderly;
  • Declining membership numbers in Greek social clubs and brotherhoods which has reduced the opportunities to stay connected to one’s cultural identity and traditions;
  • Threats to well-being through manipulation, exploitation and abuse by children, family or carers – although not an epidemic problem, this problem is evident daily;
  • A lack of social support programs which are needed within the community support system – for example, elderly citizens clubs, brotherhoods and local governments which play an important role in meeting psychosocial needs;
  • Significant barriers to research progress due to low research interest, high costs of doing research with CALD communities (e.g., translation and interpretation costs) and the difficulties of recruiting and working with elderly CALD populations.

A shortage of bilingual carers, nurses and culturally-affiliated providers means that in many areas of Australia access to appropriate aged care services is limited. The difficulty in communicating needs to carers who do not understand a client’s language means that important ageing needs are often not accurately assessed or adequately met.

Due to cultural and linguistic differences, many elderly Greeks are more isolated and lonely within both the community and mainstream residential aged care environments. Factors attributed to their cultural identity, including appropriate food, spiritual and traditional activities and celebrations are commonly disregarded or forgotten in the delivery of mainstream aged care services.

Research evidence suggests that up to 40 per cent of Greek elderly have symptoms of moderate to high levels of depression and anxiety. Depression, anxiety, isolation and loneliness should not be viewed as a normal part of ageing, despite the present state of affairs.

A few aged care providers, such as Fronditha Care, improve on these outcomes by tailoring aged care services to meet important cultural and linguistic needs.

However, long waiting lists for home care package approval and for residential care admission cause significant strain on the families of elderly Greeks and on the rapidly growing number of dementia sufferers.

These challenges are shared by many CALD communities locally and nationally. At a time when Australia is facing a Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, there remains a scarcity of dialogue and policy intervention in the area. How we respond will have national implications on the policy and practice of CALD ageing and integration. It is the role of Fronditha Care and other organisations in the community generally active in the sector to bring these important challenges to the forefront at a time that will prove pivotal for the aged care sector.

*George Lekakis AO is the CEO of Fronditha Care.