The Center for Native American Health (CNAH) at the University of New Mexico led by Dr. Tassy Parker, hosted a symposium this spring to engage tribal communities across the state in discussions about dementia. The Road Map for Indian Country helped guide the conference format titled “Promoting Resilience in Brain Health, Honoring our Native Elders.”
The meeting agenda highlighted the statistics surrounding dementia and caregiving experiences and included time for participants to discuss the needs and priorities of New Mexico tribal communities on the topic. Attendees learned about the early signs and risk factors associated with dementia and heard experiences from a local healthcare provider and community members (e.g., tribal leaders, national and community advocates).
Encouraged by Dr. Tassy Parker, Micah Clark (Navajo Nation, specialist at the Center) teamed up with Anthony Boone (CDC fellow at the Center) to produce a lively, mutually informative web-based meeting. The event attracted tribal members from across the state.
Micah shared the meeting background: “As a Center, we have a mission to prevent chronic disease; to which we have added activities in Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia in just the past few years. With deep experience with cardiovascular disease in tribal communities and understanding its risk factors linked to dementia, this web-based meeting seemed a natural fit.”
The work started by convening a planning committee comprised of individuals from tribal communities, the affiliated medical center, Alzheimer’s Association, state tribal affairs office, and the International Association for Indigenous Aging’s brain health team. The committee was asked to generate their own themes, topics, and speaker suggestions based on what they believed the local community’s learning needs were.
Planning ran from November 2021 to the event in April 2022, and COVID continued to be a factor in planning. “We had to adapt to the speed bumps from COVID issues, but we had the bonus that in the COVID era, we had learned a lot about technology barriers,” according to Anthony.
Ensuring active community engagement for meeting participants required creativity, and flexibility in delivering meeting content.
This included setting up watch parties, participants joining by cell phone and not computers, and providing easy access to meeting materials via mail. “Albuquerque has a great internet signal, but we have mountains and distance to conquer and some truly frontier communities to serve,” said Boone.
Given the number of persons signing on with just cell phone, speakers were asked to create simple PowerPoints and avoid jargon and technical language. The program was also designed with frequent breaks with energizers – including chair yoga – to emphasize the brain health/heart health connections.
The planning committee addressed information needs by consulting experts such as the Alzheimer’s Association and the Banner Health Alzheimer’s clinic.
Participants also engaged in small breakout groups, making up about half of the meeting day. in the first discussion session, they were encouraged to discuss their own experiences with dementia and related caregiving. The second session focused on the Road Map for Indian Country action items, asking participants to provide feedback on the action items’ relevance to their community. The second discussion session was also used to get a sense of the biggest priorities for community action.
Many were looking for inspiration, not just for information. Regis Pecos (former governor, Cochiti Pueblo) (pictured) addressed the values underlying tribal action on dementia, including honoring elders as keepers of wisdom and culture.
The next steps include a summary report for participants and the broader community and a continued effort to connect to activities such as the NEAR grant, which provided some of the support for this event.
You can view the resources that were used by clicking below: