Workshop Discusses Health Information Needs of American Indian Elders


Effectively meeting the health information needs of American Indian elders, a frequently underserved and difficult to reach audience, can be a challenge. That’s why, in December 2012, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) co-hosted a workshop, Native American Elders: Fostering Interagency Collaborations to Support Effective Outreach with the Trans-National Institutes of Health (NIH) American Indian/Alaska Native Health Communications and Information Work Group and the Administration on Aging (AoA) at the Administration for Community Living (ACL). Representatives of the organizations, along with experts from the Indian Health Service (IHS), came together to:

  • Learn about NIH, ACL/AoA, and IHS initiatives and programs focused on outreach to American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) elders
  • Discuss the public health needs of AI/AN elders
  • Identify strategies for increasing effective health communication to AI/AN communities
  • Support future collaboration among NIH, ACL/AoA, and IHS pertaining to health communication

“The meeting was a chance to learn about and discuss effective ways to support the health information needs of elders in these diverse communities,” said Vicky Cahan, communications director at NIA.

The workshop commenced with a traditional tribal invocation by Wilbur Woodis, M.A., Senior Policy Analyst for External Affairs at IHS, that he had learned from his grandfather. Introductions were led by Marie A. Bernard, M.D., Deputy Director of NIA, and Isabel Garcia, D.D.S., M.P.H., Deputy Director of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, who also serves as a Technical Advisor to the HHS Secretary’s Tribal Advisory Committee.

In her remarks, Garcia stated that Native American elders “are a unique population because they are the survivors” in a community that has a smaller proportion of elders compared to the overall U.S. population. She reminded participants that these elders are held in high esteem and regarded as important opinion leaders.

Presentations during the workshop featured ongoing activities at ACL/AoA, IHS, and NIH:

  • Cynthia LaCounte, Director, Office of American Indian, Alaskan Native, and Native Hawaiian Programs, ACL/AoA, with colleague Shawn Terrell, described Title VI, Grants for Indian Tribal Organizations
  • Bruce Finke, M.D., Elder Health Consultant, Nashville Area Indian Health Service, discussed the role of the IHS in providing healthcare services to AI/AN people.
  • Mimi Lising, M.P.H., Chair, Trans-NIH American Indian/Alaska Native Health Communications & Information Work Group, and Multicultural Health Educator, Office of Science Policy, Planning, and Communications, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease (NIAMS), summarized the role of the Trans-NIH AI/AN Health Communications & Information Work Group and also focused on an NIAMS Multicultural Outreach Initiative.
  • Jill Bartholomew, Senior Public Health Advisor, National Cancer Institute (NCI), highlighted NCI’s multicultural outreach to Native American communities to address health disparities.
  • Nina Silverberg, Ph.D., Deputy Director, Alzheimer’s Disease Centers Program, NIA, discussed the topic of Alzheimer’s disease in AI/AN communities and efforts by two NIA-funded Alzheimer’s Disease Centers that focus on Native American outreach.

“Each of us is actively engaged in activities to support AI/AN communities, but we knew little of what others were doing,” said LaCounte. “This was a great lead-in to our group discussion.”

 In the afternoon, the group focused its attention on four major areas:

  • Understanding cultural influences on the perception of health and evidence-based medicine
  • Building partnerships among NIH, ACL/AoA, IHS, and External Organizations
  • Improving distribution of NIH public health information to AI/AN communities
  • Obtaining feedback on NIH public health materials

“At the end of the day, we met our objectives—we learned, we discussed, and we will continue to build a collaborative effort across HHS,” said Dr. Bernard, who before coming to NIA was a geriatrician in Oklahoma and worked with AI communities. “By breaking down some of our organizational silos, we’ll be better able to support these communities with evidence-based health information, provided in the ways they find it most useful.”

Helpful American Indian/Alaska Native Federal Resources


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