Migration factors

There are two groups of elders of Arabic speaking backgrounds: those who migrated at a younger age and have grown older in Australia and those who arrived more recently as elderly migrants (under family visas), or as elderly refugees. Both groups may face similar issues and challenges, including:

  • Grief and loss: This can be experienced at a time when the elderly person’s responsibilities for child rearing and for providing for the family have been fulfilled.  Many older migrants and refugees experience ‘postponed’ grief for the loss of their homeland, the loss of family members in their home country and, in some cases, post-traumatic symptoms may develop years after the trauma occurred.

  • Social isolation: This can be compounded for older women of Arabic speaking backgrounds, many of whom have spent their younger years fulfilling traditional family and child rearing responsibilities.  Consequently, they may have had limited education, employment and English language learning opportunities.

  • Disruptions to memory: Mental health changes, such as dementia, can trigger painful suppressed memories, especially for those who have experienced torture or trauma prior to migration. This is distressing for clients and can lead to challenging behaviours, which can become more evident in residential facilities where clients' memories of confinement may affect their behaviour.

    The onset of dementia can also affect English language skills that elders acquired during their working years.  It is common for bilingual elders with dementia to revert to their first language and lose proficiency in a language acquired at a later stage in life.