Various Native Communities Come Together For “Honoring Elders Wisdom” Summit
“It’s probably been there all along, but it’s because we didn’t have as many elders it wasn’t as common, but I think folks are recognizing now that it’s increasing,” says Dr. Bruce Finke, elder care consultant with Nashville Area Indian Health Services.
Dementia is becoming more common in the Native community, and that’s part of the reason why “Honoring Elders Wisdom Conference” was held today. Presenters used charts and diagrams to show the prevalence of dementia in the elder communities, and also looked at the correlation between dementia and other ailments like diabetes, which is also very widespread in Indigenous communities.
Dr. Neil Henderson, Executive Director of the Memory Keepers Medical Discovery team, says, “Diabetes interrupts the way that glucose should normally function, and the brain needs glucose. It runs off of glucose, but it has to be the right amount and has to be able to be used correctly to have correct brain function; without that we begin to see cognitive impairment and in the long term, loss of brain cells, and that’s when we start calling it dementia.”
The room was filled with doctors, nurses, social workers, caregivers, professors and other professionals. One of the most important takeaways organizers hoped the crowd learned was that it’s extremely important to address why these issues are so prevalent.
“I think the whole main point is to actually start the conversation, you know? That people start talking about this and not see Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia as an embarrassment because it’s something that anyone of us could experience in our life,” says Karen Bedeau, Dementia Outreach specialist with Northwoods Caregivers of Bemidji.
One way to treat the problem today is to diagnose dementia sooner rather than later.
Finke says, “Warning signs are not recognizing people, becoming disorientated in familiar places, having trouble managing chronic health conditions – that would be a reason to be checked.”
When it comes to prevention, the best thing is to start getting into healthy habits now.
“There just simply isn’t a medication that’s going to fix this. It’s going to be diet and physical activity and staying brain alert and brain active,” says Henderson.
Officials say they also hope the conference will encourage more research on connection between the Native American community and dementia.