Jordan Lewis, PhD, MSW
Professor, Department of Family Medicine and BioBehavioral Health
Associate Director, Memory Keepers Medical Discovery Team
EPSCoR Fellowship, University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2008
Mellon Foundation Dissertation Fellowship, University of Alaska Fairbanks Graduate School, 2010
Ph.D., Cross-Cultural Community Psychology, University of Alaska Fairbanks
MSW, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis MO
BSW, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Indigenous successful aging, rural community health, generativity and healthy aging, cultural constructions of Alzheimer's Disease and related dementias
Awards & Recognition
Over the past decade, my research agenda has significantly contributed to the field with discussions on culture-specific approaches to successful aging in two specific areas. First, my work established a culturally congruent Alaska Native (AN) perspective and understanding of AN successful aging and led to a theory of AN healthy aging (Lewis, 2011). My novel research stands in contrast and steers away from the ethnocentric definition and concepts currently found in mainstream gerontology literature. The most common definitions of successful aging focus on the lack of disease and disability and healthy mental well-being; it is based on assumptions that effects of aging are tied to disease. My research challenges these definitions of successful aging and reconstructs AN aging using a strengths-based, non-medical, systems approach perspective. Through Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR), my work to define AN successful aging gives voice to Elders, enabling them to define their own aging processes, while contributing to concepts of Indigenous health and aging. For example, my previous work with AN Elders identified one key characteristic of successful aging to be a willingness and desire to pass down their wisdom and experiences to ensure a healthy future for younger community members. I coined the term Indigenous cultural generativity, which is further detailed below. My research in this area has resulted in book chapters, peer-reviewed publications and professional presentations highlighting how this concept can be used to address health disparities in tribal communities. My Indigenous theoretical and methodological perspectives align with the Memory Keepers Medical Discovery Team (MK-MDT) mandate and approach to preserve brain health by collaborative, community-based research.
Over the past three years, my research agenda has expanded to include Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders (ADRD) among AN Elders. I explored the cultural understandings and constructions of ADRD, identified barriers to timely care, and assisted communities in developing culturally appropriate programming both from the perspectives of the Elders and their family caregivers (Lewis, Noonan, Jernigan, & Manson, in press). Qualitative data illustrates that AN communities and families view and understand ADRD from a non-medical, western biomedical model of health and illness. Through community-based work with tribal communities, I have identified barriers to proper assessment and diagnoses of ADRD. These include limited knowledge and lack of training of health care providers, including their understandings of ADRD from a cultural lens. As a community psychologist, I am trained to work with communities to develop culturally relevant programs and services to improve the health and wellbeing of community members across the lifespan. I learned of increased concern of ADRD among Elders and without caregiver education and resources, a timely diagnosis and proper care is delayed until advanced stages of the disease. The lack of a cultural understanding and explanatory model of Indigenous dementia creates barriers and misunderstanding by health care providers and families, delaying diagnoses and treatments.The next step in my research is to address this gap in knowledge and partner with caregivers and their loved ones to conduct a qualitative study to explore cultural understandings of ADRD in Indigenous communities to develop caregiver training and education. Stories illustrate that AN communities and families view and understand ADRD from a non-medical, western biomedical model of health and illness.
My scholarly contributions include the development of a model of AN successful aging, the theory of AN healthy aging, the concept of Indigenous cultural generativity, and cultural understandings and construction of ADRD among AN caregivers. In addition to producing a model of AN successful aging, my research has developed an important model of Indigenous cultural generativity (Lewis & Allen, 2017). My research has identified indigenous cultural generativity as a critical source of meaning and identity. Cultural generativity is a crucial ingredient to healthy aging, a resilience resource, and an important tool for AN Elders. My work on Indigenous cultural generativity is nuanced and detailed and has important implications for the wellbeing of Alaska Native and American Indians, including those with ADRD, their caregivers, and family and community members. This model has the potential to guide significant future research in the area of Indigenous health and dementia, with generalizability to aging theory among all marginalized groups.
Research Funding Grants
7/1/2018 – 6/30/20
Alaska Native Mental Health Trust Authority
Reminiscence therapy with traditional foods for Alaska Natives with dementia
The goal of this study is to develop a group-based reminiscence therapy program using Alaska Native traditional foods as a non-pharmacological intervention for Alaska Natives with dementia in long-term care facilities across Alaska.
I. Peer-Reviewed Publications
Fife, B., Brooks-Cleator, L.A., & Lewis, J.P. (2020). The role of spirituality as a coping mechanism for Alaska Native caregivers for family members with dementia. Journal of Religion, Spirituality, and Aging
Lewis, J.P., Noonan, C., Jernigan, V., & Manson, S. (2020). Making sense of a disease that makes no sense.” Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease and related disorders among caregivers and providers in Alaska. The Gerontologist.
Lewis, J.P., & Brooks-Cleator, L. (2019). Changing Life Roles with Dementia. Care Partner Information Sheet. University of Arizona Center on Aging.
Brooks-Cleator, L.A., & Lewis, J.P. (2019). Alaska Native Elders’ perspectives on physical activity and successful aging. Canadian Journal on Aging/La Revue Canadienne due Vieillssement. doi:10.1017/S0714980819000400
Lewis, J.P., Boyd, K., Allen, J., Rasmus, S., & Henderson, T. (2018). “We raise our grandchildren as our own children:" Alaska Native grandparents raising grandchildren in Southwest Alaska. Journal of Cross Cultural Gerontology, 33(3), 265-286. Doi: 10.1007/s10823-018-9350-z
Lewis, J.P., & Allen, J. (2017). Alaska Native Elders in Recovery: Linkages between Indigenous Cultural Generativity and Sobriety to promote Successful Aging. Journal of Cross Cultural Gerontology, 32(2), 209-222.
Lewis, J.P. (2016). American Indian/Alaska Native Elders: A growing demographic that is changing how we view aging. Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 59(4), 277-280.
Skewes, M.C., & Lewis, J.P. (2016). Sobriety and alcohol use among rural Alaska Native elders. International Journal of Circumpolar Health, 75(1), 1-8.
LePak, J.E., Lewis, J.P., & Walters, K. (2016). “I’m in this world for a reason:”
Resilience and Recovery among American Indian and Alaska Native Two Spirit Women. Journal of Lesbian Studies, 20(3/4).
Henderson, T. L., Dinh, M., Morgan, K, & Lewis, J. (2015). Alaska Native grandparents rearing grandchildren: A rural community story. Journal of Family Issues, 38(4), 547-572. doi:10.1177/0192513X15597292.
Lewis, J.P. (2014). The role of the social engagement in the definition of successful aging among Alaska Native Elders in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Psychology of Developing Societies, 26(2), 263-290.
Lewis, J.P. (2014). What successful aging means to Alaska Natives: Exploring the reciprocal relationship between the health and well-being of Alaska Native Elders. International Journal of Ageing and Society, 3(1), 77-88. ISSN: 2160-1909.
Lewis, J.P. (2013). The Importance of Optimism in Maintaining Healthy Aging in Rural Alaska. Qualitative Health Research, 23(11). Doi: 10.1177/1049732313508013
Lewis, J.P. (2013). The future of successful aging in Alaska: What can we learn from our Elders to ensure a healthy future. International Journal of Circumpolar Health (72), 21186. This paper is part of Supplement 1, 2013, ICCH15 Proceedings. http://dx.doi.org/10.3402/ijch.v72i0.21186
Lewis, J.P. (2011). Successful aging through the eyes of Alaska Native Elders. What it means to be an Elder in Bristol Bay, AK. The Gerontologist, 51(4), 540-549. doi:10.1093/geront/gnr006
Lewis, J. (2010). Successful aging through the eyes of Alaska Natives. Exploring generational differences among Alaska Natives. Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology, 25 (4), 385-396. doi:10.1007/s10823-010-9124-8.
II. Non-peer-reviewed publications
Lewis, J.P., & Brooks-Cleator, L. (2019). Changing life roles with dementia. University of Arizona College of Medicine, Center on Aging. Care Partner Information Sheet.
Lewis, J.P. (2018). Investigating the health and wellbeing of Alaska Native Elderly in Northwest Alaska using Community-Based Participatory Research Methods. Witness the Arctic, Fall 2017. Arctic Research Consortium of the United States. Available online at http://www.arcus.org/witness-the-arctic
Lewis, J.P., & Thibedeau, D. (2017). Activity manual to honor Alaska Native cultures and traditions in care facilities.
Lewis, J.P., & Boyd, K. (2013). Forward steps and missteps: What we’ve learned through the process of conducting CBPR research in rural Alaska. Journal of Indigenous Research. Available at: http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/kicjir/vol2/iss1/3
Lewis, J.P., & Boyd, K. (2012). Determined by the Community: CBPR in Alaska Native Communities Building Local Control and Self-Determination. Journal of Indigenous Research: Vol. 1(2), Article 6. Available at: http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/kicjir/vol1/iss2/6
Lewis, J.P., & Boyd, K. (2012). Reconceptualizing Long Term Care in Rural Alaska. The IHS Primary Care Provider, 37(2), 12-44.
Lewis, J.P., & Thibedeau, D. (2012). Culture and familiarity matter to Elders. An Alaskan nursing home brings Native traditions and cultural artifacts to its residents. Denali Center Elder Care. The Provider Magazine, Caregiver column.
Lewis, J.P., & Boyd, K.B. (2011). Norton Sound Subregional Elder Needs Assessment. Prepared for Native Village of Unalakleet and Norton Sound Health Corporation (unpublished technical report).
Lewis, J.P., Fox, S., & Hahn, M. (2010). Bristol Bay Region Long-Term Care Assessment Project. Prepared for Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation and Indian Health Service. (Unpublished technical report).
Lewis, J., Woods, T.M., Zuniga, R., & David, E.J.R. (2010). The Indigenous Peoples of Alaska: Appreciating the role of elders in shifting toward a strength-based and culturally appropriate approach to mental health. Communiqué, August, XXIII-XXVII.
Lewis, J.P. (2009). Successful aging through the eyes of Alaska Native Elders: What it means to be an Elder in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Unpublished dissertation. University of Alaska Fairbanks.
III. Published abstracts
Lewis, J.P. (June 2014). Special Issue: Abstracts from the 37th Annual Scientific Meeting of the Research Society on Alcoholism, June 21-25, Bellevue, Washington, Volume 38, Issue Supplement s1, Pages 1A–386A. Motivations for sobriety among Alaska Native Elders.
Social Aspects of Aging in Indigenous Communities. Editors: Jordan P. Lewis & Tuula I. Heinonen. Project to begin Spring 2020.
V. Book Chapters
Lewis, J.P. (2019). Indigenous cultural generativity: Teaching future generations to improve our quality of life. Encyclopedia of Gerontology and Population Aging.
Lewis, J.P. (2019). Reclaiming our identity through indigenous cultural generative acts to improve mental health of all generations. Indigenous Mental Health, University of Guelph. Toronto, Canada
Dougherty, J., Lewis, J.P., & Lomay, N. (2018). Working with American Indian and Alaska Native Families in Dementia Care. Ethnicity and the Dementias. Routledge/Taylor & Francis.
Tovar, M., Patterson, D., & Lewis, J. (2015).American Indian/Alaska Native Elders. In The Oxford Handbook of Social Work in Health and Aging. Second Edition. Oxford University Press.
Allen, J., Lewis, J., & Johnson-Jennings, M. (2015). Well-being and health counseling; Pedersen, P. B., Draguns, J. G., Lonner, W. J., & Trimble, J. E. Counseling Across Cultures, Seventh Edition, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, pp. 433-453.
Lewis, J.P., Allen, J., & Fleagle, E. (2014). “We have to go through the problem:” Internalized Oppression and Alaska Native People. Internalized Oppression: The Psychology of Marginalized Groups. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. pp. 57-81.
Tovar, M., Lewis, J., & Patterson, D. (2013). Older Native Americans. The Handbook of Social Work in Health and Aging, Second Edition. Oxford University Press.
VI. Book Reviews
Lewis, J.P. (2013). Dementia Care with Black and Latino Families: A Social Work Problem-Solving Approach, by Delia Gonzalez and Richard H. Fortinsky. Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 56(3), 276-277. Doi: 10.1080/01634372.2013.771014
VII. Invited Publications
Patterson, D. A., Lewis, J., & Black, J. (2014). Alaskan Natives as culturally different clients. Linwood H. Cousins (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Human Services and Diversity, SAGE Publication. doi: 10.4135/9781483346663
Lewis, J. (2010). Memoriam for Dr. Gerald “Jerry” Mohatt. Journal of American Indian Education, 49(1&2), 6.
Lewis, J. (2004). Building Tribal Economies: Linking Asset Building Strategies. Conference report. Washington University in St. Louis, Sponsored by First Nations Development Institute, Kathryn M. Buder Center for American Indian Studies, and Center for Social Development, Washington University in St. Louis. August 17-19, 2004.
Lewis, J.P. (August 1, 2019). Successful aging and community engagement. Senior Voice. Available at: https://www.seniorvoicealaska.com/story/2019/08/01/columns/successful-aging-and-community-engagement/2052.html
Lewis, J.P. (July1, 2019). Is physical health the be-all to successful aging? Senior Voice. Available at: https://www.seniorvoicealaska.com/story/2019/07/01/columns/is-physical-health-the-be-all-to-successful-aging/2026.html
Lewis, J.P. (June 1, 2019). Successful aging means sharing and teaching. Senior Voice. Available at: https://www.seniorvoicealaska.com/story/2019/06/01/columns/successful-aging-means-sharing-and-teaching/1996.html
Lewis, J.P. (May 1, 2019). Elders’ perspectives on how to age successfully. Senior Voice. Availavle at: https://www.seniorvoicealaska.com/story/2019/05/01/columns/elders-perspective-on-how-to-age-successfully/1970.html
Bylander, J. (2018, March 8). Meeting the needs of Aging Native Americans. Health Affairs. DOI: 10.1377/hblog20180305.701858
Lewis, J.P. (June-August 2017). Quarterly Spotlight: Jordan P. Lewis. University of Washington Emergency Medicine, Global Health.
Lewis, J.P. (2017). Investigating the health and wellbeing of Alaska Native Elderly in Northwest Alaska Using Community-Based Research Methods. Arctic Research Consortium of the United States. Available at:https://www.arcus.org/witness-the-arctic/2017/2/article/27777
January 7, 2015. Early study shows surprising optimism among homeless Alaska Natives. Juneau Empire. KTOO Public Media. Available online at: https://www.ktoo.org/2015/01/07/early-study-shows-surprising-optimism-among-homeless-alaska-natives/
March 21, 2014. National Native News Interview with Dr. Jordan P Lewis. Aging in Alaska: How to be happy in old age. Available online at:
Lewis, J.P. (2011). Alaska Native Elders share with the secrets of successful aging. Aging Horizons Bulletin. Reporting from Canada on the changing culture of aging. Available at: https://aginghorizons.com/2011/06/interview-alaskan-native-elders-share-the-secrets-of-successful-aging/
Social Determinants of Health; Gerontology; Social work; AIAN health disparities