Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Respecting our diverse elders (it will be us tomorrow)

Mary Gurgone, Fortis Partners in Culturally Appropriate Care (PICAC) State Director for WA, shares her story of caring for her mother and issues facing culturally and linguistically diverse (CaLD) carers.

I was my Mother's primary carer for 26 years before she passed away. She was a strong woman who lived a hard life through the Depression, war and fascism, terrible events that robbed her of food, her husband, her baby. She overcame all that and more as she single-handedly ran the farm, raised her children and bravely came to the land that promised her children a good future, Australia. Here she worked as a kitchen hand, starting at 7am and finishing at 6pm, six days a week so her children could achieve their career goals and their life dreams.

So when she needed care, I did not hesitate. For the first 13 years she lived in a granny flat attached to my home. I was there to smooth the way by overcoming language barriers, mobility issues, emotional stress and all the daily demands of banking, paying bills, shopping, cleaning and providing avenues for her passion in cooking and gardening, while juggling my role as wife, mother and professional woman.

After 13 years of being cared for at home, Elena was diagnosed with dementia. So started the merry-go-round of care workers and home help by people who did not speak her language, understand her Mediterranean food preferences or her abhorrence at having strangers in her home to assist with showers and toileting. I managed her ravings, often throughout the night, alongside my demanding senior public service role, parenting duties and having time with my husband. There was no time to consider my own needs, a feeling I shared with two-thirds of Australian carers.

It is estimated that between 25–30% of carers in Australia are from CaLD backgrounds.

CaLD carers face many issues, including problems with the cultural appropriateness of assessment processes and eligibility criteria; lack of choice between mainstream and culturally-specific carer services; concerns about the cultural appropriateness and competency of services; lack of individual and systemic advocacy; lack of involvement in service planning, implementation and evaluation; lack of availability of bilingual and CaLD staff; and lack of carer information translated into different languages.

Hearings at the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety are revealing, among other things, the vital need for culturally appropriate care, and for availability of interpreters and translators. Many people are not aware of the language services support they can access so Fortis provides information and workshops to aged care providers. Currently, the Office of Multicultural Interests and professional associations work to upskill translators and interpreters to work in a range of sectors including aged-care, but still more needs to be done.

When my Mother went into residential care, it was a temporary, welcome relief in a site that suited her language and culture. She found other women her age who spoke her language, and shared rosaries, coffees and Italian biscuits as well as knitting and sewing. Till the deterioration of the dementia meant she was moved to high care and gradually lost the ability to move, converse or have a life.

Unfortunately, over a year ago, Elena lost her brave battle and passed away at the age of 98.

When I reach out to carers of migrant elderly people in my role in the PICAC program, I deeply respect and honour the carers. In an instant, I am walking in their shoes and as I look back on the journey of my mother's life and my role as a carer, I understand the sacrifices that carers make to support their loved ones and the physical, emotional, mental and financial challenges they face.

Supporting these carers and recognising the invaluable contribution they make in society is crucial to the challenges the disability and aged-care sector faces in the future. I hope that my role as Fortis PICAC State Director for WA and the work that we do goes some way to providing that support and recognition.

While PICAC offers some support to aged-care providers across the State, much more needs to be done as is obvious from the many reported cases of elder abuse involving seniors of other cultures. PICAC provides support on a State-wide basis but the cost of travel prevents us from assisting many isolated CaLD seniors. Frustratingly, many organisations who need support are unaware of what government-subsidised support is available.

Seniors are often impacted by the health system as they face more health problems towards the end of life. This ageism leaves the elderly often uncared-for in time of crisis.

More than 30% of people receiving aged-care services are from CaLD backgrounds. Let's look after our seniors, our parents, and our grandparents.


Fortis Consulting delivers the PICAC WA program funded by the Australian Government, Department of Health.


To find out more about PICAC, call 9467 2490, email or visit