A SHORTAGE of interpreters is further isolating vulnerable, ageing central Victorian migrants and refugees.
It is compounding issues for a group of people already at risk of elder abuse and isolation, the Loddon Campaspe Multicultural Services' chief executive has told a state parliamentary inquiry.
Sonia Di Mezza has recounted a recent experience interpreting for a woman trying to arrange advanced care directives for her husband, who was living in an aged care facility.
"As the CEO ... I had other things I should be focused on, like running the organisation, but there were no other options, so I went and helped out," she told the inquiry, according to a recently published transcript of proceedings.
"The family told me that the Italian community in Bendigo is becoming elderly. They have no interpreters to help them.
"There is just one elderly Italian man who does his best to help the community to understand forms that they need to fill in."
The problem is it likely to go away as Australia's population ages, multiple submissions to the inquiry have suggested.
People with dementia or Alzeimers often find their memories unravel back through time, Ms Di Mezza said.
They lose their grasp of their second language, she said.
"I cannot tell you about the number of times I met elderly women, Italian women, with dementia in locked dementia wards in Canberra," Ms Di Mezza said.
"When they would speak to me, they would speak in the dialect of their village, in one case the Neapolitan dialect, which happens to be a dialect I speak."
Ms Di Mezza said calling telephone interpreters had its shortcomings.
"The older person may suffer hearing impediments or may experience dementia," she said.
And it was not always appropriate to call in a bilingual resident, especially during medical or legal discussions.
Ten per cent of Loddon Campaspe's population was born overseas, far less than the average 25 per cent nation-wide.
There were no culture-specific aged care facilities in the region, and some homes lacked enough bilingual staff.
"The state government should invest in interpreter training in the relevant languages in the regional areas," Ms Di Mezza said.
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Crippling housing shortages in places like Bendigo were compounding the challenge finding workers with the right skill sets, she said.
"They say in Bendigo that for every rental, you have eight people competing for that house," Ms Di Mezza said.
She also recommended more elder abuse campaigns using languages and communications platforms older people born overseas used.
The inquiry has finished taking testimony and is now drafting a report. It is currently expected to be tabled by no later than June 30.
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