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.
AddressMemory Keepers Medical Discovery Team, 624 E. 1st Avenue, Suite 201, Duluth, MN 55808
Tracy Kemp, email@example.com