The Arizona Indian Council on Aging (AICOA) conference, presented by the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc. (ITCA), marked its silver anniversary this year, celebrating 25 years of providing Native American elders tips and services for living a long and healthy life. The four-day conference, held April 15-18 at Talking Stick Resort and Spa, provided a full agenda of education, activities, healthy workshops and socialization.
The more than 600 attendees included seniors age 55-plus, individuals with disabilities, caregivers and people who provide aging-related programs and services. They come from all across Arizona and some surrounding states as well.
When they arrived, they were welcomed by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Senior and Disabled Community Advisory Committee and Salt River Senior Services to Culture Night, a traditional social gathering held at the Two Waters complex. The seniors enjoyed music, entertainment and a dinner to open the conference. They were invited to visit the Huhugam Ki Museum and sample some traditional O’odham foods.
“This is my first time here. I am one of the oldest elders in our group. I live alone, and I would like to learn about things I can do to help me as a person who lives alone,” said Gila River District 6 resident Deloris Cawker. “Also, information on arthritis and how I can take care of it and have a little less aches and pains.”
Tonya Miles of Gila River District 6 also was attending the AICOA conference for the first time, but she has been to other conferences before. “[I love] the different conferences I have been to; you learn something new every time. I was looking at the agenda, and I really want to go to the [workshop] on dementia. I just found out my uncle is like that. I’ve been hearing about [dementia], but it hasn’t hit me in my family till now.”
Health Information Workshops
The following day began the full schedule of informational workshops on topics such as nutrition, Social Security, wellness, living wills, Medicare and more.
The workshop “Tips and Tricks for Keeping Your Memory in Shape” provided information on the diseases that can affect memory and thinking. This was a popular workshop, and there were no empty seats during the first session. Many of the seniors were interested in finding out what they could do to improve their memory.
“When I came in this morning, I [saw] people working on sudoku [puzzles], and I heard jokes [by seniors who said] ‘I don’t remember why I’m here,’ which I always hear when I do this workshop,” said presenter Jan Dougherty, R.N.
The interactive session discussed age-related changes in memory while reviewing the latest scientific evidence about how certain lifestyle factors affect brain health. Participants engaged in a variety of exercises to learn how to improve memory for names, faces and lists.
Another workshop, “The Importance of Taking Good Care of You,” helped elders discover the triggers for stress, both physical and emotional, including health, financial and family issues. Participants learned the difference between good stress and bad stress and how good nutrition, adequate rest, and exercise play a role in controlling stress. They learned and practiced techniques to keep stress under control through some joint-safe exercises that had everyone laughing and enjoying each other’s company. First they went through some quick exercises using paper plates. Due to the large number of attendees, there was only enough room to do chair-based exercises, but they still managed to get their heart rate going through laughter.
The workshop “Diabetes and Healthy Eyes” was presented by Kim Russell, manager of the Native American Community Development Program of the Arizona Department of Health Services, who explained that people with diabetes are at higher risk for certain diseases and complications that can affect their health, such as diabetic eye disease, which can cause vision loss and even blindness. Russell told the seniors about the importance of having their eyes dilated during their yearly eye exam to detect early symptoms of diabetic retinopathy, cataracts and glaucoma to help prevent vision loss.
Luncheon Awards Presentation
After the morning workshop sessions, the Elder and Sponsorship Recognition Luncheon recognized various individuals and programs for their work with tribal communities and elders. The 2013 Elder Awards honored the Elder Advocate of the Year, Volunteer of the Year, Elderly Services Program Staff Member of the Year, Elderly Services Program of the Year, AICOA Member of the Year, Public Benefits Outreach, Long-Term Care Ombudsman and Health Promotion/Disease Prevention Program.
The Elder Advocate of the Year Award went to Delmar Osife, cook for the Gila River Indian Community Elderly Nutrition Department.
“I would like to recognize my program manager and the nutritionist who showed me the steps in my work, and also my team members—they are the most important components part of my work. Thank you,” said Osife.
Volunteer of the Year went to Dale Howard, retired fire chief of the Colorado River Indian Tribes, and the Mo-Chem-Ho-Na Senior Citizens Center in Parker, Arizona. Howard advocates for families on all military matters and is instrumental in securing all their earned benefits. He travels on behalf of the elderly veterans in his community, advocating for their needs and services.
Phyllis Antone, a retired teacher of the Gila River Indian Community, won the Elder Advocate of the Year award.
“I’ve been active with the elder groups for many years. It’s been worth my time and I’ve enjoyed every bit of my time at the local and national level,” said Antone, who said she plans to continue in her work helping elders.
The AICOA Member of the Year Award is presented to the current AICOA member “who demonstrates outstanding dedication and excellence in performing membership duties and assisting the Area Agency on Aging, Region 8, in tribal community advocacy.” The award went to Gila River Indian Community Representative Ruhama Charles.
The Elderly Service Program of the Year award goes to a tribal program that provides services to their elders and in their tribal community. This selection is made by Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona. The award went to the Kaibab-Paiute Tribe.
The awards included a special presentation to one of the original members of the AICOA, Alice Norris from the village of Chuichu on the Tohono O’odham Nation. Norris was recognized as one of the original founders of AICOA and was awarded a pottery piece donated by Ronald Moore of the Colorado River Indian Tribes.
“I thank you very much for this gift. It’s been a long time,” she said. “The Indian elders have never been provided services in their areas. The state had to do those services for us, but some of the reservations, such as mine, were so remote that it was too much for them to come out. So I took it upon myself; I was the elderly program director at the time. I wrote to Washington, D.C., and explained that we needed services more than anybody,” said Norris. “They told me if I got more tribes to get involved, then maybe we would get direct funding. So at that time I got together with executive health staff for the tribe and we decided we’d go to the university and contact a professor (couldn’t recall his name) and his student who was under him, Larry Curly. Together we worked on getting direct funding for Indian tribes, because I felt that Indian people needed the services more than anybody.”
The Senior Prom is always a fun part of the AICOA conference. This year, Delbert and June Ray were crowned Senior King and Senior Queen. The prom featured entertainment by the chicken-scratch band Pima Express.
On the final day of the conference, elders enjoyed the Senior Games, held at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. They played games and competed in sports events such as archery, basketball, the chicken throw, bowling, chair volleyball, aerobic dance and more.