Above: The Older Refugee Working Committee. L-R: Yolanda Encina, Fairfield City Council; Marisa Salem, NSW Refugee Health Service; Regina McDonald, Braeside Hospital; Yvonne Santalucia, South West Sydney Local Health District; Sharon Wall, Ageing By Caring Pty Ltd; Franka Bosnjak, NSW STARTTS; Debbie Giacomin, Bankstown Area Multicultural Network; and Ruth Wilson, Aged and Community Services Association of NSW & ACT.
By Stephen Easton
A new booklet to guide aged and community service providers in the special needs of older refugees was presented to delegates at the recent AAG and ACS Rural Conference in Dubbo, NSW.
Marisa Salem, deputy director of the NSW Refugee Health Service and one of the guide’s co-authors, began her presentation by asking the audience to consider whether they could tell a refugee apart from another member of society.
Many service providers do not realise that some of their clients are in fact refugees, Ms Salem said, as most moved to Australia long ago when they were younger after fleeing from past conflicts like the Second World War. A small minority of refugees are older when they arrive.
The resource comes from about 12 years of research, including consultations with refugee communities and health practitioners who worked within them, which identified a range of specific issues that affect the health of older refugees, and the need for clear guide to explain these to aged care services.
Ms Salem said that although the booklet was aimed at community care providers, it would also have strong applications in residential care.
“It’s about hearing the stories that refugees have to tell, understanding their individual life experiences, having an understanding of loss and grief as pertaining to older refugees, understanding the ageing process and how that could be different to older refugees,” she she told AAA after the conference.
On top of the same issues that can come into play in providing care services to older migrants, the guide helps service providers work with their staff to recognise that most refugees carry the emotional and psychological legacy of past trauma, and understand the impact that could have on the ageing process and their physical and mental health.
“The ageing process may be different for people of different cultural backgrounds; people can feel as though they have well and truly aged when they’re in their only in their forties, or others would think they’re still youthful in their sixties. The concept can be very different for different communities,” Ms Salem said.
“A person’s experience may also affect their ageing; people who have experienced a lot of trauma, perhaps torture, or have witnessed those things happening to other people may age more quickly – or course, they may not as well.”
The booklet is arranged clearly and logically into four key areas: understanding the individual life experiences of older refugees; understanding loss and grief in older refugees; understanding the normal ageing process; and understanding the impact of the refugee experience on older age.
It also includes many real-life examples of the sorts of wartime atrocities that older people from particular regions of the world may have been affected by.
Many refugees have post-traumatic stress disorder and have suppressed their memories of these experiences, Ms Salem said, but cognitive ageing, delirium and dementia can halt these coping mechanisms and bring terrifying memories back to the surface.
The booklet, Enhancing the Lives of Older Refugees: a self improvement guide for community services, was produced by the Older Refugee Working Committee and sponsored by Fairfield City Council and is available here, free of charge.
Committee members included representatives from South Western Sydney Local Health District; NSW Refugee Health Service; Bankstown Area Multicultural Network; Braeside Hospital; NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors; Aged & Community Services Association of NSW & ACT; Fairfield City Council; and CatholicCare.