New research challenges the assumption that culturally-specific care is better able to meet the care needs of aged care residents from non-English speaking countries.

The research published recently in the Australasian Journal on Ageing aimed to identify the daily living, behavioural and complex care needs of people living in Australian aged care facilities who were born in non-English-speaking countries using Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data.

Just over 19 per cent of the 172,798 aged care residents living in government-funded facilities at 30 June 2015 were born in one of 188 non-English speaking countries (33,468 residents).

For residents living in multicultural facilities, those born in a non-English speaking country had higher behavioural care needs as rated on the Aged Care Funding Instrument than residents born in English-speaking countries.

Higher levels of complex care needs were also reported for residents born in non-English speaking countries living in multicultural facilities compared to those born in English-speaking countries and living in non-multicultural facilities.

For residents born in non-English-speaking countries living in ethno-specific facilities, the study found a higher proportion required high levels of behavioural (68 per cent) and complex care (56 per cent) than residents born in English-speaking countries living in non-ethno-specific facilities (57 per cent and 51 per cent respectively).

Lower levels of behavioural care needs are not associated with multicultural or ethno-specific facilities. This may be due to residents having higher behavioural needs upon entering the facility, which is consistent with having higher levels of activities of daily living and complex care needs, the researchers found.

Lee-Fay Low

Lead researcher Dr Lee-Fay Low, an associate professor in ageing and health at the University of Sydney, said the most important finding is that people born in non-English speaking countries living in residential aged care in Australia have higher care needs.

“What is surprising is that there was an assumption that people from non-English-speaking countries who live in ethno-specific facilities would have lower behavioural care needs because the culture is right for them there,” Dr Low told Australian Ageing Agenda.

Difficulties accessing services, reluctance and cultural beliefs are among reasons people from non-English-speaking backgrounds enter aged care at a later stage.

“People from non-English-speaking backgrounds because of culture, stigma or values might try to stay at home for as long as possible, so the older person may have more severe care needs, are frailer or more disabled when they enter aged care facilities,” Dr Low said.

Communication barriers can make it more difficult for staff to look after residents from non-English-speaking backgrounds well compared to when staff and residents share a common language.

“Their care needs might be rated higher because it’s harder to communicate with them and understand what they want.

“It’s harder to understand their behaviours, to supervise them and provide them with the help they need,” Dr Low said.

Creating awareness within aged care facilities and in the community are among ways that providers can respond to the findings, she said.

“Know who your residents are, what their language and cultural needs are and have a planned approach on how to meet their language and cultural needs,” Dr Low said.

The Aged Care Diversity Framework, which was launched in December last year, aims to address common barriers that prevent residents from equal access to safe and appropriate aged care services.

The government is still developing the separate action plan targeting the particular barriers and challenges faced by people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds in conjunction with the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Council of Australia.

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