Academic journal article Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession

Family Care: An Exploratory Study of Experience and Expectations among Older Chinese Immigrants in Australia

Academic journal article Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession

Family Care: An Exploratory Study of Experience and Expectations among Older Chinese Immigrants in Australia

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

It is well established that families play a key role in the lives of older people in both western and-Asian countries. In East Asian societies, government ageing policies are based on Confucian ethics of filial piety that require adult children to take care of their ageing parents (Liu & Kendig 2005). Traditional filial practice offers an holistic form of care with clear implications for the overall quality of life of Asian elders. The core filial concept directs children to repay their parent's nurturing and sacrifice by supporting them fully in their old age. Filial practice has several indispensable components: joint living arrangements (usually with the eldest son and his wife), financial support and practical help with everyday activities, respect for and spiritual devotion to the wellbeing of the elders. The elder is to be treated as a central figure within the family, to whom unqualified obedience must be shown, and there is an expectation of close emotional bonding between the generations. Caregiving is not conceptualized as a process that begins with the onset of frailty but as 'a continuous and reciprocal process for support that emphasizes mutual dependency among certain familial members throughout the life span' (Liu & Kendig 2005).

Research suggests that there have been important departures from traditional practices over recent decades, reflecting the impact of modernisation and westernisation on family forms and functions (Holroyd 2002; Lee et al 2000; Liu 2000; Mehta 2000; Sung 2001). These include declining numbers of extended family households in some countries (Hugman 2000; Lee 2004); change in caring attitudes (Kim & Lee 2003) and qualitative changes in the roles and relationships within multigenerational households that have negative implications for elders' experience of physical and emotional security and wellbeing (Ingersoll-Dayton & Saengtienchai 1999; Silverstein, Li & Zhang 2002; Strom et al. 1999).

The experience of being a migrant, whether by choice or because of economic or political necessity, is increasingly common but the impact of migration on the ageing process remains 'a seriously neglected topic' (Blakemore 2000). Particularly when it occurs in later life and involves dramatic change in culture and language, migration has significant ramifications for the wellbeing and care needs of older people. A small number of studies, mostly North American, reveal a mixed picture of changes in traditional filial practice among Chinese immigrants. One consistent finding is widespread departure from the filial norm of co-residence. There is also evidence that social security, formal services (such as domestic assistance), and/ or neighbors and friends often supplement or replace the economic and practical support from families (Gee 2000; Lan 2002; Mui 1996; Tsai & Lopez 1997; Pang et al. 2003).

Australia has a relatively large number of Asian-born people from countries with a filial culture such as China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and Korea. China, for instance, will be the fifth most common country of birth of older overseas-born Australians by 2026 (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2005). Yet there is little data available to inform effective planning for the future service needs of this group. What do immigrant Asian families actually do for their parents and, most importantly, what do older people themselves desire in the way of informal and formal support? Answering these questions will not be an easy task. There are important limitations in conventional research methodologies for capturing the perspectives of elderly Chinese immigrants. There are, for instance, practical and cultural constraints on sampling and recruitment. Potential interviewees are dispersed throughout the community and may be unlikely to read or speak English well, if at all. Chinese culture, moreover, is incompatible with recruitment by strangers: personal referral is essential to the development of social relationships, and discussion of family matters with an 'outsider' is considered shameful. …

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