Discover two initiatives that help raise awareness, reduce stigma and increase inclusion.
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People in the city may not see how First Nations communities struggle in order to access better health care.
– Gwen Traverse
As the director of health of the Pinaymootang First Nation, a community located 240 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, Gwen Traverse understands the unique health challenges people living with dementia and their caregivers face in rural settings. These issues include difficulty accessing health care to age in place, limited health literacy from informal caregivers, a lack of cultural sensitivity and awareness from some health-care providers, and difficulty securing funding for health and wellness programs. Living with Dementia in Rural First Nations Communities: A Health and Wellness Project hopes to alleviate some of these challenges.
The project’s three goals are to help informal caregivers and the person living with dementia lead a happy and fulfilling life, to mitigate risk factors in the community that affect dementia, and to mobilize the knowledge we have by developing training materials that can be shared with other Indigenous communities who may wish to learn from our experiences.
– Dr. Reg Urbanowski
The project, which is funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada, began in spring 2020 and is scheduled to run until March 2022. It is a partnership between the University of Manitoba and six First Nation communities, including Pinaymootang First Nation, Lake Manitoba First Nation, Opaskwayak Cree Nation, Norway House Cree Nation, Sagkeeng Anicinabe First Nation and Lake St. Martin First Nation. “The project’s three goals are to help informal caregivers and the person living with dementia lead a happy and fulfilling life, to mitigate risk factors in the community that affect dementia, and to mobilize the knowledge we have by developing training materials that can be shared with other Indigenous communities who may wish to learn from our experiences,” says Dr. Reg Urbanowski, the dean of the College of Rehabilitation Sciences at the University of Manitoba.
(L) Team members from the start up phases of the project in partnership with the University of Manitoba.
(R) Team members connect with a community Elder.
Urbanowski began working with a number of First Nation communities, including Pinaymootang First Nation, in 2016. He asked how the College could be of service to the community. “Dementia in Indigenous communities is probably a good third higher than in the rest of the population, due to factors such as housing, residential-school trauma and health issues related to cardiovascular disease and diabetes,” says Urbanowski. “And it’s hitting people at a younger age and growing at a faster rate.” (1)
During a gathering with the university in 2019, Traverse and her staff expressed interest to work on programming for people living with dementia in their community. Traverse also shared that Pinaymootang First Nation Health Centre considers itself a health and wellness hub for community members and people living nearby. “I was so passionate and frustrated that I broke down crying,” says Traverse. “People in the city may not see how First Nations communities struggle in order to access better health care.”
This ongoing partnership between the University of Manitoba and Pinaymootang First Nation spurred the project’s creation. In July 2020, students from the university’s physical and occupational therapy program visited Pinaymootang First Nation three times a week for six weeks to research the types of programs that might benefit those living with dementia. The students connected with people living with dementia and performed strength assessments, devised exercise regimens (such as chair exercises), and recommended strategies and equipment to increase self-care and independence.
The students also helped develop a dementia toolbox of educational resources for caregivers. Another project initiative in the development stage is called the Gift of Memories, which supplies tablets to people with mild to moderate dementia and their caregivers, so they can share life stories and experiences. “It’s a legacy piece that reasserts the value of people living with dementia and their history,” says Urbanowski.
Today, the pandemic has slowed the project’s progress, but Traverse, Urbanowski and their teams continue to work together to raise awareness and help reduce the risk factors associated with dementia.