(MENAFN - AFP) The scent of an eggplant and tomato dish wafts through a shared flat in Berlin for Turkish seniors who arrived decades ago, never expecting to live out their twilight years in Germany.
"We cook Turkish food fresh every day so the residents really feel at home," said managing director Nese Akcay at the residence for seven men in their 80s and 90s in a well-to-do neighbourhood of the German capital.
"It's like they are in a Turkish home, because this food smells of Turkey."
Since 2010, Akcay's company, aliacare, has opened five shared apartments that serve as senior citizen homes catering to Turkish immigrants in Berlin.
The nurses, doctors and even the cook speak Turkish, TVs and radios play Turkish channels, and the staff knows Muslim prayer times and holidays.
"Most of the residents have dementia or have suffered strokes, which means they have lost their short-term memory," Akcay said. Even those who learned German have, through age and sickness, forgotten it.
Most of the residents moved to Germany in the 1960s and 1970s as guest workers to fill a labour gap during the country's post-war economic boom.
They were originally invited by the government to work for a few years and then return home, but many stayed, marrying, starting families and subsequently growing old in their adopted country.
Today, about three million people with Turkish roots live in Germany, making it the largest non-ethnic German immigrant group in the country.
"I have great respect for different cultures, but here, I can live my own culture," said Ali Haydar Cilasun, a white-bearded poet and actor, speaking through an interpreter.
Cilasun moved to Germany from Turkey more than 30 years ago. Now 92 and living with dementia, he needs the round-the-clock care provided in the apartment.
The number of foreigners over 65 in Germany is projected to more than double in the next two decades, according to government estimates.
That means Germany faces increased demand for health and social service providers that cater to seniors with diverse backgrounds.
"A bigger push to facilitate access to services is needed," said Martin Kohls, a researcher with the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees.
Kohls' research suggests immigrants express more hesitation to be cared for by strangers, and may not be as familiar with how to navigate the German health system.
"Overall, the inpatient and outpatient services available aren't well-known by older immigrants," Kohls said.
Reinhard Streibel, who runs a dementia service centre for immigrants in western Germany, said the special needs of ageing immigrants have gotten more attention lately.
"There is more and more research on these topics, so the level of understanding is already somewhat higher than it was nine years ago," when his centre opened, Streibel said.
Requests for family counselling increased nearly four-fold from the centre's opening in 2004 until 2012. Demand for the foreign-language informational materials on dementia has also risen.
At first, interest came mostly from the Turkish community, but more and more Polish and Russian families are also seeking help.
Still, outside cities and large towns, Streibel said there is an unmet need for visiting nurses and adult daycare centres catering to immigrants.
In 2009, there were nearly 24,000 accredited nursing homes or outpatient service facilities in Germany. The German health ministry does not track how many of these specialise in immigrant care.
But in the country's most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where his dementia centre is located, Reinhard Streibel said there are only three such adult daycare centres, out of more than 400 serving a general population.
"In these regions," Streibel wrote in an e-mail, "one has to say that the supply (of culturally competent care) is not adequate."
Creating a home away from home
In a country that has long struggled with integration, developing the infrastructure to care for a diverse ageing population is not without its hiccups.
A private Turkish nursing home heralded as the country's first opened to international headlines in Berlin in 2006, but after reportedly failing to fill its beds, the facility was re-named and re-invented to serve a general population.
"It is very hard for (Turkish people) to hand over their loved ones to someone else," said aliacare's Nese Akcay.
"The culture is very family-focused, and the parents are the heads of the family," said Humeyra Baykan, with the European Association for Vocational and Social Education in Berlin.
"So when they are old, you care for them, you respect older people."
When adult children are unable to take parents in, Baykan said, it is often important to find a home that upholds Islamic rules -- including, importantly in Germany, not serving pork -- and creates a social living environment.
At the shared apartments in Berlin, caretakers can talk with residents about Turkish culture and politics in the 1950s and 1960s, topics they often remember more clearly than the events of the previous week.
"You can see, with these topics, they join in conversation, speak energetically," said employee Guven Asmacik.
In the future, however, Asmacik envisions a time when homes like these will no longer be necessary.
"Eventually, for the third and fourth generations," Asmacik said, "there won't be any more culture-specific apartments, because these generations speak only German."