Aussies urged to care for elderly

Article by Katrina Yu /
SBS World /
July 08, 2013 /
Click here to view original /

China this week took the drastic step of passing new laws requiring children to visit their elderly parents.

The law came into effect on July 1.

Under the law, adult children are required to regularly visit parents over the age of 60 – as well as provide mental and financial support.

Those adult children who don’t follow the law face fines, lawsuits – even jail.

Steve Teulan at Unitingcare Ageing NSW and ACT says he doesn’t think implementing a similiar measure here in Australia would be realistic.

But he says he applauds the sentiment behind the action taken by the Chinese government.

“Isn’t it wondeful that the government says older people should be valued members of the community and deserve to be respected,” he told SBS.

Social scientist Lauren Rosewarne at Melbourne University says there are different attitudes towards aged care in European and Asian cultures.

“We don’t have a culture in Australia where it’s the norm where children or grandchildren take on the burden of caring for older people. It’s quite normal to outsource that care,” said Ms Rosewarne.

Traditionally in Asian cultures, different generations live together, but this is changing.

China’s one-child policy means sole children, many who migrate for work, must care for two ageing parents.

Australia’s baby boomers are also under pressure to care for elderly parents, as well as so-called “kidults”, grown-up children who can’t afford to move out.

But despite the different cultural atttitudes, the challenges in Western and Asian countries are similar says Ms Rosewarne.

“Similar problems that exist in China do exist in Australia, where we’ve got a situation where older people are experiencing things like loneliness and poverty.”

In Australia, communities have found ways of making sure senior citizens have companionship.

Retiree Cecilia Culligan has adopted pet dog Simba through the Sydney Inner West Neighbourhood Aid.

Through the pet program, the 87-year-old meets other locals and gets the human interaction she needs.

Volunteers make monthly visits to nursing homes around Sydney, taking the place of family members who can’t.

“A lot of times they’re forgotten,” one volunteer told SBS. “We have a lot to learn from the people here.”

Another volunteer says the law does need to be strengthened to ensure the elderly are well cared for.

“There is a place where the law needs to intervene – its kind of sad that people need to be told,” she said.

Patricia Heredia cares for her mother Tessie, while working full-time.

She admits doing so isn’t easy, but says she doesn’t need a government mandate to motivate her.

“You can’t say I’ll do it when I have more time, when something else is sorted out the kids are more grown up. This is your life, this is it now.”

Tessie Dias says having the ongoing support of her daughter gives her an important feeling of security.

“It gives you a sense of security to know your children love you and they’re always care for you. You can throw your fears to the winds, and whatever comes my way I know they will be there for me.”