By Becca Verda
For the Tulalip Tribe, honoring elders is a tradition. It is the first of seven values that guide daily life for the tribe, stating, “We respect our community of elders past and present, and pay attention to their good words.” However, as the U.S. has seen the number of aging individuals living with Alzheimer’s and dementia rise, so has the Tulalip community.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s can affect how families and younger generations maintain relationships with elders. Rosemary Hill has been with Tulalip Behavioral Health for the past seven years and seen how relationships can change due to memory loss. “What I have observed,” says Rosemary, “Is a profound respect for the elders. When an elder starts acting strangely, forgetting things, or an elder isn’t acting as an elder so called ‘should,’ it can make it very hard and isolating for families.”
Tribal member Andrew Gobin addressed the prevalence of dementia within the tribe in an article published in Tulalip News, recognizing that “many families in the Tulalip community face dementia in one form or another. The condition affects people in different ways, often leaving the families caring for their grandparents and parents, feeling left with nowhere to turn for advice and support.”
Andrew and his family experienced this firsthand when his grandmother, a past General Manager of the Tulalip Tribes, was diagnosed with dementia. “I knew her to be a strong woman, sharp, and high-functioning,” says Andrew. “To lose her to dementia so quickly was devastating, and though we lived through it, I don’t remember ever really talking about it.”
Andrew and his family are not alone in their experience. Rosemary has also observed many tribal members do not openly discuss memory changes they see in loved ones or themselves. Because of stigma and fear around Alzheimer’s and dementia, it can go undiagnosed and people don’t find the community resources. “Respect for elders is not the problem. Knowing how to handle some of the behaviors [common with dementia] and interpret them can be hard,” says Rosemary. This is why last summer Tulalip Behavior Health partnered with the Alzheimer’s Association to host a free educational workshop for caregivers.
Tribe members like Andrew and his family, as well as community support leaders like Rosemary, are helping raise awareness and education in the community. The Tulalip Tribes Charitable Fund awarded the Alzheimer’s Association a grant to support their direct services and will feature the Association at their annual Raising Hands event. Because of financial support from organizations like the Tulalip Tribes, community members experiencing memory loss can access vital resources including a 24/7 Helpline (800.272.3900), support groups, education workshops and online resources free of charge.
Too often people affected by Alzheimer’s and dementia feel alone and don’t know where to turn. But resources are available and help families find the support they need to honor elders living with memory loss.
The Alzheimer’s Association will host two Snohomish Family Caregiver Conferences October 10 and February 27. Learn more and register at alzwa.org. If you or a loved one are experiencing memory loss, dementia or Alzheimer’s call our free 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900.