Indigenous Peoples need help with dementia, Algonquin elder urges conference

OTTAWA — An Algonquin elder described Monday how shocked she was to learn — almost by accident — that a routine nursing-home visit with her ailing father would be their last.

Annie Smith St-Georges told a national conference on dementia how her father’s worsening condition resulted in him being moved from the First Nations reserve he called home in Maniwaki, Que., to a nearby long-term care facility.

She visited him every two weeks, making the trek either by bus or with her husband, she said. And yet nobody called to inform the family that he was dying — something she only learned when she laid eyes on him during that last visit in 2003.

Smith St-Georges described finding her father, eyes thick and glossy, with a morphine patch on his chest.

“I walked into the room and he had a big patch on him. And nobody notified us … to spend that quality last moment with him. I grabbed a nurse and I said, ‘What’s this?’…’Oh, he’s dying,’ and she took off. I said, ‘Who ordered this?’ Nobody told us,” she recalled.

“When somebody leaves, it’s big — it’s huge, and it’s a big goodbye. They will never come back again to say hi to you. So I rocked him to sleep. I had that moment, at least.”

Smith St-Georges told her story to about 200 health care professionals, caregivers, researchers and people with dementia at Monday’s conference in Ottawa, hosted by Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor.

Her father, who was 89 when he died, had lived on a reserve for his entire life, but the moment he was transferred from a hospital to a nursing home off-reserve, he lost access to services, she said in an interview.

“Her dad was not able to get any services from the reserve off-reserve. Even though he spent all his life teaching [traditions and language],” added her husband, Andre-Robert.

She described how, emaciated, he suffered from bed sores, but had no way of acquiring a softer mattress because he was no longer living on the reserve.

The federal government needs to do more for Indigenous people who lose access to services, said Smith St-Georges, who wonders how many other First Nations people have had the same experience. And families with loved ones with dementia need help to ensure they aren’t moved too far away, she added.

“I still feel hurt about it and this is very emotional for me,” she said. “How guilty I felt and how bad I felt of how he was treated in the last moments of his life. He did not believe in that.

“This is where I would like to see improvement of our people being served in a proper way.”

Petitpas Taylor invited Smith St-Georges to join her new advisory board on dementia, a measure aimed at developing a national strategy for the condition.

The board will be co-chaired by Dr. William E. Reichman of the Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation and Pauline Tardif, the CEO of the Alzheimer Society of Canada.

“When we look at Indigenous services we certainly need to make sure Indigenous communities receive the services they need,” Petitpas Taylor said in response to a question about Smith St-Georges’ experience at the nursing home.

“We heard from a variety of speakers who talked about inconsistencies of services available in our country and those are the types of things we need to address,” she said.

Petitpas Taylor said she hopes the advisory board will report back next spring.

Janice Dickson , The Canadian Press

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