Those taking care of Osage relatives and patients living with Alzheimer’s disease or those experiencing symptoms of dementia are invited to participate in a study which will examine how people cope and handle caring for those affected in Indian Country.

J. Neil Henderson (Choctaw), who is a professor at the University of Oklahoma’s Health Sciences Center, is leading a study on caretaking among Native American families which includes focuses on taking care of patients living with Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss problems. He is seeking interested caregivers for interviews which will touch on their patient care.

"We're trying to understand, from a realistic viewpoint, how caregivers take care of elders who are experiencing memory loss," Henderson said. He notes the longevity rates for Native elders is rising, which could increase the numbers of those having memory loss.

"There is a developing problem in Native America," said Henderson, "people who are living longer could be subject to memory loss."

Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia which mainly affects older people, according to the 2010 World Alzheimer Report conducted by Alzheimer's Disease International. After age 65, the likelihood of developing dementia roughly doubles every five years.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, there are about 5.3 million Americans living with the disease and every 70 seconds, someone in America develops Alzheimer's. The association predicts there will be a half-million new cases of Alzheimer's this year and by 2050, there will be nearly a million new cases of Alzheimer's every year.

To help address the issues of Alzheimer's disease and memory loss problems in Oklahoma's Indian Country, Henderson is conducting the study - with the focus on caregivers - to offer solutions and education to those who could be looking after Native elders in the future. This study is being funded through a grant from the Alzheimer's Association, Henderson said.

"Our purpose is to bring the information (conclusion/ recommendations from the study) to the tribes for their use so we can all use it," said Henderson who has a doctorate in medical anthropology and teaches OUHSC courses on topics including Native American health and social and behavioral sciences. He is also the director of the OUHSC's American Indian Diabetes Prevention Center.

For the study, Henderson and his wife, Carson Henderson, an assistant professor at OUHSC whose research interests include gerontology, will personally visit with the caregiver, as well as the caregiver's most frequent helper, and the patient (if possible) for interviews.

Neil Henderson said the interview questions will focus on topics including: the level of the patient's memory loss (i.e. mild, severe); how do the caregivers prepare for elder care; and what type of resources are needed for caregiving.

Eligibility rules for participants are: the caregivers must be over the age of 18; at least one of the caregivers must be Osage or member of another Native American tribe; the caregivers and patients must be Oklahoma residents; and the patients do not need to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease/ dementia for the study (a family/ caregiver can just have concerns about caring for the patient).

The Hendersons are also working with at least six other Oklahoma tribes in seeking caregiver participants for this study. Those tribes include the Iowa, Caddo and Citizen Band Pottawatomi, Neil Henderson said.

The caregiving families who participate in this study will receive a $50 Walmart gift card as a "thank you" for their time, said Henderson, who will spend about six months on the study.

"What we find (in the study) will be put into a training manual for the public to help" and educate the public, Henderson said. "These are the things we cope with everyday."

For more information on Alzheimer's disease, visit the Alzheimer's Association Web site

For more information or to participate in the Henderson study on Alzheimer's disease/ memory-loss problems, caregivers and interested parties can reach Dr. Henderson at (405) 509-1945 or e-mail at


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