Zuni, New Mexico
Zuni Adult Day Care and respite program services have created an oasis where elders with dementia and their family caregivers thrive. Prior to the Center’s establishment in 2007, elders on the reservation living with dementia and other critical care needs had to leave the reservation for nursing home care. Almost universally, the elders would be deceased within a week or two. The richness of being Native American, speaking a language unique to their people, living with deep traditions and customs also conspired to make off-reservation care difficult to provide.
Zuni tribal members began looking for better ways to help their elders age in place, while also supporting the elders’ family members. Zuni Pueblo is located in a rural, remote area on the Zuni Indian Reservation, far from mainstream America and residents are mostly low income. Tribal members had not only to work diligently, but also seek out creative ways to find a sustainable path to build a dementia care program that could succeed.
There is no word for Alzheimer’s disease in the Zuni language and little was known about the illness. Members learned all they could about dementia, sought state and federal resources and other tribal programs—including non-Zuni tribes—to secure funding and worked to establish a model program that would be acceptable to tribal members and tribal elders living with dementia.
Today, the Adult Day Care program gives family caregivers respite to take care of themselves and their needs, including the very high percentage of tribal members living with diabetes. Ongoing caregiver training is provided through the Ashiwi Support Group including reaching out to the greater New Mexico community to build knowledge about Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias and dealing with challenging dementia care behaviors, all with cultural humility.