Caring for elders while caring for ourselves

The role of caregivers in tribal communities.

Throughout many tribal nations in the Great Lakes region, elders are the keepers of tribal history. They are the teachers of traditions and their opinions are well respected because of the many experiences they have had in life. It is well known that the American Indian/Alaskan Native (AI/AN) population continues to increase in age along with the rest of the populations in the United States.

As a result, tribal nations have continued to increase their services and service providers to ensure that elder’s needs and wellbeing will be cared for. Even though there is an increase in services, family, friends and community members continue to be the most widely utilized support and caregivers for elders. Within tribal nations you will find that informal caregivers are females between the ages 45 and 54 and tend to be either employed full-time or not working at all. NA-caregivers.pdf

 According to Dr. Richard Ludtke of the National Resource Center on Native American Aging American Indians, Center for Rural Health, located at the University of North Dakota, said tribal nations “have strong traditions of extended family support, which represents the primary option for providing care to their elders. This does not imply that American Indian informal caregivers do not have difficulties in providing care.  Rather, they may not voice their difficulty to the same extent as caregivers in the general population.”

Caregivers often find themselves at risk of physical and mental exhaustion. According to the American Psychological Association Risks for Family Caregivers , family caregivers can experience considerable burden, stress and disruption of their own wellbeing and social activities. Also, research shows that they are at risk for emotional and physical health problems. In order to alleviate some of the stress of being a caregiver, below are a few ideas for caregivers of elders to consider:

  • Put your physical needs first - be sure to take time to exercise and be sure to rest
  • Connect with family and friends – call a friend or visit a family member
  • Participate in community activities – read the tribal newsletter to see if there are any activities that you would like to attend and arrange a person to be home while you are at the activity
  • Ask for help from tribal elder departments – make contact with the tribal elder’s department or a local community agency to determine what services are available to you
  • Take a break
  • Deal with your feelings – it is OK to have varying feelings such as anger, sadness and happiness. If any of your feelings begin to make you feel worse, be sure to seek medical advice
  • Just say no! – It is OK to say no to activities or programs when asked. Your time and energy are important to your health and wellbeing

Caregivers often give much of themselves and time to the caring of others. Within tribal nations, caring for elders and caring for the caregiver are very important activities and are necessary to continue having healthy and caring environments.

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