Immigrant seniors face added challenges accessing care

Cultural traditions can be an additional barrier for immigrant seniors needing care in Waterloo Region, including factors such as language issues and the gender of the service care provider.
Venkat Ramachandran is taking care of his mother at home. He says putting elders in long term care is considered a last resort in his culture. (Amanda Grant/CBC)

Cultural traditions may cause additional challenges for immigrant seniors needing care in Waterloo Region, in everything from language issues to the gender of the service care provider.

Venkat Ramachandran, who is caring for his mother, says long term care is often seen as a last resort.

"That is not something that is part of our culture. And we try and accommodate what we need to do in the house," says Ramachandran. His family bought a house with lots of space on the main floor so his mother can avoid climbing the stairs.

It’s a cultural difference that Martina Rozsa, the senior director of Client Services at the Waterloo Wellington Community Care Access Centre, says they try to take into account when helping patients.

"Depending on the ethnic background there may be cultural norms that people have, things like coming into someone’s home can be oppressive for someone if that’s not culturally what they’re used to," said Rozsa in an interview with Craig Norris on The Morning Edition on Thursday.

"It could be something as simple as maybe it’s unacceptable to have a male service provider in your home so we make sure that we provide female services providers or vice versa," said Rozsa.

Ramachandran says there are many elderly parents who come from abroad after only to find that they’re more limited in a new country.

"They're dependent on people driving them from here and there so it becomes very difficult and very depressing in some cases."

Lucia Harrison of the Kitchener-Waterloo Multicultural Centre says language issues can also be very problematic for immigrant seniors.

"What we have heard from the seniors is that there is real isolation. They don’t feel comfortable going out to the grocery stores, getting on a bus, going anywhere if they don’t have those language skills and it leaves them incredibly isolated," said Harrison.

"That also leaves them open to abuse, because there’s not much in the way of protection if they don’t have those verbal skills, so it could be financial abuse, verbal abuse."

Rozsa says the CCAC puts in every effort to find someone who can speak the language of the patient seeking care and can translate during initial assessments.

"We first look in-house, we do have a diverse pool of employees, to see whether anyone speaks the language of that individual. If we find that there’s no one in house that speaks the language we do contact the multicultural society and we bring an interpreter out. So we do send an interpreter out to the home," she said.

Rozsa says once the initial assessment is done, the CCAC will work with agencies to find care providers can speak the language and have an understanding of the cultural background of the client.