The aging Indian seniors and their specific needs

By Neena Badhwar

There are over 500 Indian senior residents in nursing homes in NSW and many more who need home care as the community is aging. People who came to Australia in the seventies from the Indian subcontinent are aging and now number over 30,000 in the 75+ group. They need to access retirement services such as   shopping, disability aids, home modification, social support, home maintenance, personal care, safety and security, nursing care, cleaning, respite care, day care, meals, allied health services, transport like anyone else. They need services suited to their specific cultural needs.

We as Indians feel shy in asking for help as the joint family system in India was set up in such a way that the sons and daughter-in-laws who lived with the parents looked after them. Old people relied on their sons for needs such as food, shelter, security and money. They were provided for their health and medical needs by family taking them to doctors, hospitals and medical checkups.

I was once a community visitor for a couple of Indian senior ladies in a nursing home. Whenever I visited them they had concerns about food as they did not like what they were served. Just a talk of good ”˜home made sambar dhal’ or ”˜avial’ would light up their face. And then they would go into telling me the recipes of some of the dishes they used to make when at home as I could gather how desperately they craved for home made food. One of them showed me a picture of hers which she pulled out of her meager possessions all cramped into the top drawer of the chest of drawers that she was given next to her bed. In that picture this eighty year old lady was wearing a Santaclaus cap and had a small Christmas gift in her lap with her staring directly at you. I asked her, “Mataji, where was this picture taken?” She answered trying to remember, “Puttar! Shayad it was Christmas at the nursing home. “My next question was, “So did they celebrate Diwali?” She asked, “Acchha”¦When was Diwali?” I answered, “Diwali is before Christmas”¦” as I thought did the nursing home even know about Diwali. What if on the Diwali day not even one candle was lit in her room as the old lady went to sleep like it was any other normal day.

Every day I hear about some person or the other from the Indian community getting into old retirement village or a nursing home as people age. We need to look at the services and ask for services suited to our cultural needs. We need to have carers who speak our language and cooks who cook food to suit our lifestyle with which we have lived our lives at home.

We must ask for such cultural specific services such as food, social and language to be provided for the Indian community for people who are aging and who are in need of such services. A small change in food can take away the little hunger a senior may have who are already compromised due to health issues. And that can emaciate the person even more. I come across many people who mention that they do not feel hungry the reason being that they are only used to home cooked Indian food. Obviously no one is asking for heavy curries but simple dhal, rice, subzi and chappati should do. It is their lifeline. Amidst taking so many medicines, the appetite is totally gone when they do not have the choice of food they would like to eat. All the airlines have realized this and offer various meals in the form of halal, hindu, vegetarian etc suited to the needs of travelers from multicultural background. Similarly food is an important part of one’s life no matter how old one gets. In fact food and nutrition is more important when one is old, sick and debilitated. One cannot pop dozens of pills without much appetite for food if it is not of right choice suited to the person’s lifestyle and cultural need.

In my opinion it is an important issue when one is getting into old age and needs to use services such as home care, meals on wheels or moves to a retirement village or a nursing home. Department of Aging, Disability and Home Care(DADHC) can help with this. Their direct number is 02 8270 2000 or or Home Care Client Relations number is 1800 044 043.


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