By: Ron Epps, New Mexico Alzheimer’s Association
I am new to the Program Director position at the Alzheimer’s Association – New Mexico chapter.
One skill I have been consciously working on for this role is listening. Ask a question, listen. Ask a better question, listen. Ask an even better question, listen. I don’t know whether this is something that I am good at yet. I am getting better. I still have times when I talk too much. I try to learn from those times and go back to listening. I work on this as I reach out to communities that are different from my own. It is the best way for me to learn.
The New Mexico chapter recognizes that we must do a better job of reaching out to the Indigenous populations in our state. That is one of the challenges I am working to meet. I was very fortunate to make contact with Valerie Tsosie with the Division of Aging and Long Term Care Support in the Navajo Nation. She is passionate about her people and her work, making it easy to work together.
Valerie and I started off with conversations between the two of us. I worked on listening. Together we decided to start with a virtual community forum where we would ask questions like “What is the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia?” and “Where do you go for a loved one who is having memory issues?”. We used a translator to provide the information in both English and Dine`. That conversation was recorded and played on the Navajo radio station. An estimated 8,000 people listened to that recording. Valerie and I talked some more and decided to present the Living with Alzheimer’s for Caregivers series with three presentations over three months, one for each stage – Early, Middle and Late. With the Navajo Nation being in multiple states, we invited the Alzheimer’s Association team members from Arizona and Utah to join.
The early-stage presentation had an audience of over 120 caregivers on a 4-hour Zoom call. We just finished the middle stage presentation and again had 100+ caregivers. The audience has included people in New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, several other states, and even some in Europe. We will complete the series in October. The response has been outstanding. People are calling Valerie’s office, calling the Alzheimer’s Helpline (800-272-3900), asking for materials to be mailed to them, and asking great questions during the presentations. Valerie and I continue to talk. She will be helping with a presentation on Understanding Alzheimer’s and Dementia for NICOA. We talk about establishing a Navajo-specific support group. We discuss other ways we can support caregivers. We have invited the audience to join us at the New Mexico Caregivers conference on November 6. We are pleased and know there is more work to be done. We are ready.
The Alzheimer’s Association continues to seek ways to partner with Indigenous Communities in New Mexico and other parts of the United States.