EPIC Symposium brings light into the shadows of dementia

Dolly Peltier shares a laugh with some of the elders attending the EPIC Symposium held last week at the M’Chigeeng community centre. Ms. Peltier was engaging participants in art therapy as part of the day’s activities focussed on helping caregivers in dealing with elders challenged by dementia. photos by Michael Erskine

M’CHIGEENG – Being afflicted with dementia is perhaps the scariest aspect of aging—in fact for many, falling into the clutches of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s or Lewy body disease holds a far greater terror than even death itself. Not all dementias are created equal, however, and a small percentage are even reversible, but the fact remains that the vast majority of prognosis include a steady and inevitable decline in cognitive ability for those afflicted and an ever increasing burden for caregivers and loved ones.

Enter the EPIC Symposium.

“The acronym EPIC stands for Engaging, Providers in Indigenous Care, or more suitably in Indigenous dementia care,” explained Michael-Ann MacLean, research project coordinator with the EPIC Symposium’s sponsors, Noojmowin Teg, in her opening remarks. “The goal of this symposium is a continuation of the last symposium held in April of this year and serves to gain knowledge from our community members and elders on the needs of the communities for Indigenous dementia care. We are honoured by the amount of people who were open to share their thoughts, feelings and experiences about caring for a loved one with dementia and how dementia affects their lives, their families and communities.”

Ms. MacLean explained how the EPIC program’s funding was part of “a knowledge mobilization grant funded by the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care aimed at providing opportunities for First Nations communities for workshops related to dementia awareness, training opportunities for providers, community members and caregivers for dementia care.”

Currently, the grant has been utilized on Manitoulin and the North Shore, including for a similar symposium held recently in Sault Ste. Marie (which has as many as 120 people from Manitoulin communities attended). “These are meant to help inform community members on the ongoing work that is being done in communities related to the grant,” said Ms. MacLean. “We are in the process of working through our workplan and providing future training and learning opportunities within the next couple of months.”

The clock is ticking—this was the third and last symposium to be held under the EPIC grant.

“Due to funding cuts, our funding will run out as of October 17,” she said. “So until then, please be aware that we will be planning for these workshops and training in your communities.”

The EPIC Symposium was held at the M’Chigeeng Community Centre and began with a smudge ceremony and prayer opening of the doors of the four directions by elder Geraldine McGregor. Ms. McGregor closed the doors with a ceremony at the end of the symposium.

Behavioural Support Ontario staffers Roxanne Makela and Jen Savicky provided information sessions on practical ways to cope with the behaviours of dementia patients.

Noojmowin Teg Health and Wellness Manager Christianna Jones noted that the symposium was an ideal networking opportunity that allows caregivers to continue their support and to share the best practices for caring for their loved ones.

The day’s activities included art therapy with Dolly Peltier, a workshop on ‘Aging with Grace’ delivered by Kim Kitchikeg, an Anishinaabemowin Bingo workshop inside the complex, while outside in a teepee and a tent venue there were Aging Well and Teachings with Louie Frances; Behavioural Support Ontario information sessions with Roxanne Makela and Jen Savicky; Spirit Plate Teachings—Indigenous Foods Program with Courtney Kurek and Mr. Francis; and Nutrition and Dementia with Joby Quimbao.

Meanwhile, in the Moon Room there were self care sessions including reflexology with Kiki Peltier and aroma therapy and hand massages with Tracey Tooley.

Ms. MacLean noted that the EPIC program plans to have an interactive website up and running shortly that will help provide access and information on resources for those dealing with dementia or providing care.