According to the CDC, dementia is one of the top 10 causes of death of Alaska Natives 75 years of age and older, and its incidence is rising among American Indian/Alaska Natives (AI/AN) at a higher rate than it is in the overall population. But despite it being a severe problem that affects many facets of society, Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD) has received little attention. In addition, there is an increasing population of informal caregivers who are affected by the prevalence and incidence of dementia in AI/AN areas. Caregivers often experience ongoing stress as a result of providing direct care to a person with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD).
Dr. Benjamin Fife with the University of Washington School of Medicine is lead author on a study that analyzes how spiritual activities may help dementia carers cope. As part of their cultural identity, Alaska Natives (AN) generally place a high value on spirituality and religion. Practices include organized religion, reading, practicing yoga, praying, and going for walks in the woods.
Prior studies have shown that dementia caregivers use religious coping to help them manage caregiving pressures. But the relationship between spirituality and caregiver stress has yet to be fully explored despite the fact that studies have shown it to be a significant coping mechanism for caregivers.
In the authors’ thematic analysis, two main themes were found:
- Alaska Native caregivers reported chronic stressors associated with caregiving, and
- In order to deal with stress, AN caregivers employed a variety of spiritual practices
Regarding the issue of chronic stressors, there were many subthemes found, such as poor health (e.g., lack of sleep and not eating), an absence of support, and a lack of education. However, caregivers indicated that participating in spiritual activities reduced some of the negative emotional and physical effects of the chronic stressors related to dementia caregiving. These activities also helped them come to terms with death and dying, and helped their loved ones with dementia cope.
Citation: Fife, B., Brooks-Cleator, L., and Lewis, J.P. (2020). “The world was shifting under our feet, so I turned to my devotionals as his dementia worsened”: The role of spirituality as a coping mechanism for family caregivers of Alaska Native elders with dementia. Journal of Religion, Spirituality, and Aging, 33(4). DOI: 10.1080/15528030.2020.1754995