Fact Sheet – What is Dementia? Indigenous Perspectives & Culture

Fact sheet from the Indigenous Cognition & Aging Awareness Research Exchange (I-CAARE.ca) in Canada based on research with Canadian indigenous communities.

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What is Dementia? Indigenous Perspectives and Cultural Understandings

Fact Sheet Excerpt

There is some evidence that suggests age-related dementias have only recently become more common in Indigenous populations. As people live longer they are more likely to experience dementia.

What is Dementia? Indigenous Perspectives and Cultural Understandings

What is Dementia? Indigenous Perspectives and Cultural Understandings

Just as Indigenous communities in Canada are different, Indigenous peoples, communities and cultures hold different understandings of dementia, memory loss, forgetfulness and confusion related to aging. These understandings may be very different from those held by doctors, nurses and support workers.

Some descriptions of dementia that
are common are that:
• “It’s normal”
• “It’s natural”
• “It’s part of the circle of life” or “coming
full circle”
Dementia may also be described as a “second childhood” and a time when one is “closer to the Creator.” A person’s spiritual beliefs often influence how dementia is viewed.

Historical changes in diet, changes to the land or environment, disconnection from culture, as well as trauma, intergenerational trauma, stress, and unresolved grief are significant factors that cause people and communities to sometimes be out of balance and may partially explain a rise in the number of elderly with dementia.

Talking about Dementia

Dementia may or may not be an accepted term for all people. It may be more appropriate to speak of forgetfulness or thoughts being mixed up. There is no word that has been identified to mean dementia in Aboriginal languages in Canada. Instead, Indigenous languages have words that describe the symptoms or state of mind.

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© Indigenous Cognition & Aging Awareness Research Exchange. Kristen Jacklin, Wayne Warry, Melissa Blind, Sharlene Webkamigad, Louise Jones. “What is Dementia? Indigenous Perspectives and Cultural Understandings” (1126763, Industry Canada). Retrieved from: https://www.i-caare.ca/factsheets.