• In Italian culture the family is highly valued and forms part of the social and community fabric.
  • Older Italians expect their children to take care of all their needs and are reluctant to use or ask for services.
  • Accepting outside help has a stigma attached to it, although this is changing.
  • The Italian male is generally seen as the main decision maker but the female is the one who mainly carries out all the care tasks.
  • The carer, normally a female, carries the guilt of changes associated with care delivery and is reluctant to relinquish the carer role because of this.

The family plays an integral role for Italian – Australians and tends to be involved at all stages of decision making and in receiving and disclosing news concerning the care of the family member in need of assistance. In terms of aged care, there is an expectation from the senior members of the family that the family will cope with most issues and that they do not need outside assistance or services.

Older Italian – Australians tend to rely on or expect their family, in particular the women, to provide assistance with their daily life, rather than utilising an aged care service. This reliance on the family may be partly due to the reluctance of the Italian family to experience effects of gossip, criticism or shame, which can be associated with admitting to using a service or moving an older member of the family into residential care (Allotey et. al., 2003).

In Italian culture it is usually the male that is perceived as the main decision maker, but it is the female in the family such as the mother, daughter or daughter-in-law, that will carry out the tasks especially when it concerns care giving or communicating with care staff. It is always important to be aware of family power dynamics and to include all relevant family members in the development of a care or service plan.

Be aware also that the views of the client/resident might differ from that of the “spokesperson” and hence there might be difficulties or “politics” surrounding meeting the needs of the elderly person. Treat familial boundaries and roles with sensitivity.

Often the female carer can experience conflicting internal emotions in regards to her role, especially if the carer is the daughter. Generally she wants to help and continues to do so even when caring becomes too onerous. She might experience guilt for considering outside assistance. These feelings of guilt are due to the pressures of the expectations placed on her by her family, outsiders and the Italian culture and beliefs, especially that of family members “having to do their duty”.

A female carer might also fret about having to give up her role as main care giver. It is a good idea to give carers plenty of opportunities to try out residential, centre based and in home respite. These carers might refuse respite service, thinking that their loved one won’t be cared for at the same level, or that it simply is not the correct thing to do. An Italian carer will use residential respite when a crisis occurs or when family events, such as a wedding, demand that the care recipient be placed in professional care. This is often a good time for the carer and care recipient to test the waters of respite services.

However when the cared for person is sick, usually all members of the family assume some form of duty towards the person. You might find that there is always a visitor or large numbers of visitors including children that drop in on a relative in a residential aged care facility or hospital.

Children are highly valued in Italian culture and are included in most events. There is usually a strong bond between grandchildren and grandparents with grandparents often taking on childminding duties whilst the parents work.

Older female spouses feel that it is their duty to provide total care for their husbands when and if they become ill. They are reluctant to seek assistance from aged care services but increasingly they are doing so. This perceived duty is not only felt by the women themselves but is a pressure felt from the community. But increasingly these attitudes are changing amongst the older generation and their children although the guilt associated with care giving and the role of the female spouse is still keenly felt by older females.