Support for caregivers, elders ensures Native cultural longevity - Albuquerque Journal

Support for caregivers, elders ensures Native cultural longevity

At no other time in recent history have tribal leaders across Native America been challenged in ensuring the health and safety of Indian people. That challenge has been immense, and weariness has extended to those who care for our elders and their families.

Title VI of the Older Americans Act, drafted by the National Indian Council on Aging (NICOA) in 1978, established nutrition and supportive services for American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians. More than 250 tribes and tribal organizations use the funding for elder centers, meal delivery, referrals, transportation and personal care. Title VI was expanded to include caregiver support and grandparents caring for grandchildren. The program offers counseling, support groups, training, and respite or short-term care for an elder to relieve the primary caregiver. This can include adult day or home care, or care in a facility. These programs were created to keep families together, provide culturally relevant services and reduce medical costs.

Though many tribes have created elder programs, more can be done to aid caregivers. In a report published by the Diverse Elders Coalition in consultation with NICOA, more than half of caregiver focus group participants reported they were paying out-of-pocket expenses and had some or significant difficulty with coordinating or arranging services with doctors and social workers. About 45% of the responding caregivers, a majority of whom were women, stated they were the only one providing care, with some of them providing nearly 20 hours of care weekly.

Researchers also found that Native caregivers had significant declines in physical and mental health, such as chronic stress, pain, depression, digestive problems and high cholesterol due to the lack of support services. Some caregivers also appeared on the verge of burnout. This was exacerbated during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to linger in our communities.

NICOA, established by the National Tribal Chairman’s Association in 1976 with a mission to advocate for improved comprehensive health, social services and economic wellbeing for elders, respectfully engages tribal leaders as decision-makers to consider creating or strengthening supportive programs and compassionate workplace policies to aid caregivers and their families. Recommendations include allowing flextime, so caregivers aren’t fearful of losing jobs if a family member needs longer-term caregiving. Other recommendations:

• Establishing qualified free or low-cost help or partner programs to aid caregivers in financial issues, bill paying and money management.

• Aid in finding qualified free or low-cost help for legal matters, and power of attorney, guardianship and wills.

Tribal leaders have done a tremendous job during this unprecedented time in keeping our communities safe. When we also support our caregivers, we keep the family together and avoid costly health care or care by non-Native institutions. Caregivers obtain the rest they need, taking time for their own emotional and physical health. We also have resources to help with our new Long-Term Support Services website that includes examples of adult day care, housing, respite and other successful programs in Indian Country.

Instating or enhancing these programs not only provides protection for families, but also for tribal longevity as our elders are keepers of our languages and culture. This will ensure the continued existence and survival of Indian tribes and communities far into the future, and that they not be extinguished by the onslaught of the larger society.

NICOA is a nonprofit created to advocate for improved comprehensive health, social services and economic wellbeing for American Indian and Alaska Native elders. NICOA’s current #ConnectedIndigenousElders campaign highlights the needs of caregivers, as well as social isolation and loneliness among Indigenous elders. For more information, go to www.connectedindigenouselders.org.

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