Lawmakers and members of UMD’s Memory Keepers visit Duluth Alzheimer’s Association

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According to the Alzheimer’s Association, an estimated one in nine Americans ages 65+ have Alzheimer’s. For Native Americans, the risk is even higher. An estimated one in three Native American elders have Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia.

The Memory Keepers Medical Discovery team researches Alzheimer’s and related dementia in indigenous and rural communities in Minnesota as part of the University of Minnesota Medical School Duluth campus.

“We’re doing foundational research quality and continuing ethnographic research to discover how Alzheimer’s and dementia is perceived in those communities. And not just dementia, but caregiving and dementia from a kind of community and family perspective as well,” said Memory Keepers Director of Rural Health Initiatives Dr. Wayne Warry. “Tribal communities, generally speaking, don’t have access to the same resources and services or services that somebody living in urban area would have and have to go farther for care or specialized care.”

The Duluth Alzheimer’s Association held a meeting on Wednesday to discuss what is being done for memory care in indigenous communities and brainstorm ideas for expanding care. Rep. Liz Olson (DFL – Duluth), Rep. Alicia Klozlowski (DFL – Duluth), Sen. Grant Hauschild (DFL – Hermantown), and Sen. Jen McEwen (DFL – Duluth) were joined by members of the Memory Keepers in attendance.

“Part is raising awareness, but also making sure that any materials that are developed are culturally safe and appropriate,” said Memory Keepers Senior Research Associate Dr. Melissa Blind. “So making sure that we’re listening to community, making sure that their voices are being heard and making sure that we’re not disrupting that pathway of care or in terms of how community members interact with each other and care for their loved ones and their elders.”

Some of these communities are negatively impacted by a lack of long-term care facilities.

“Oftentimes their loved ones need to leave the community,” said Blind. “When you disrupt that family bond, when you’re taking those elders out of the community, you’re losing a piece of the culture. You’re losing a part of that history.”

Access to educational resources is another key aspect to helping those with Alzheimer’s.

“The better educated people are about what dementia is, the more likely they are to talk to health care providers in their communities and the more likely it is to be diagnosed early so that people can get the supports that they need,” said Warry.

If you are concerned about a loved one’s memory problems, there are signs that medical help may be needed.

“Certainly short term memory loss and memory lapses can happen as we age. Our brain is also aging,” said Northern Minnesota Alzheimer’s Association Associate Director of Community Services Jenna Pogorels. “It’s once it’s impacting our daily life. So we’re forgetting to pay our bills or forgetting to take our medications or forgetting to those important things in our life. We’re forgetting to have a meal and sit down and have a meal and take care of ourselves. We’re missing our doctor appointments. We’re missing other things at time. So it’s more than just the simple forget forgets during the day. It’s taking that to the next level.” 

More information and resources can be found on the Alzheimer’s Association website.