Language is no barrier

Bringing dementia knowledge to the Ethiopian community

For a culture that values its elders, Tegenu Negi had the knowledge the Seattle Ethiopian community was eager to learn.

Not only that: He could educate them in their native language. Because for Tegenu, Amharic is his second language, too.

Tegenu Negi speaks to the Ethiopian Community about dementia, June 17, 2021.

Recently, Full Life’s resident expert on dementia gave a two-part video presentation on the basics of dementia and dementia-related diseases like Alzheimer’s to nearly 100 members of the Ethiopian Community in Seattle. Part 1 of his presentation is on the Ethiopian Community’s YouTube channel here; and Part 2 is here.

The entire presentation, from introductions to Q&As, is spoken in Amharic, the principal language of Ethiopia and a language spoken by more than 32 million people worldwide.

Tegenu speaks both Amharic and his first language, Afaan Oromo, Ethiopia’s other principal language.

“It was a very valuable experience,” said Tegenu. “In Ethiopia it is traditional to see elders as a priority and we value them. We want to keep them home as they grow older.

“There lot of elders who want to know about dementia since resources are very limited in their native language. And it’s a very large topic.”

Members of the Ethiopian Community of Seattle ask questions during the dementia presentation, June, 17, 2021.

Tegenu presented PowerPoint slides in English that covered basic definitions and symptoms. But the heart of the presentation was the question-and-answer session afterward. Most of those who attended were elders and they peppered Tegenu with all manner of questions about symptoms and prognoses.

The presentation was a first for the Ethiopian Community in Seattle, said the organization’s program director, Tsega Desta.

“We’re very grateful to Tegenu,” Tsega said.

The Ethiopian Community in Seattle incorporated in 1987 as a non-profit dedicated to enhancing the lives and wellbeing of the region’s growing Ethiopian population. In fact, the greater Seattle area hosts one of the top 10 Ethiopian populations in the country. ECS estimates more than 60,000 Ethiopians in the state, said Sophia Benalfew, ECS Executive Director.

The organization is currently engaged in a $40 million construction project to build new residential housing for seniors and a community center that will house after-school programs, senior meal programs, health workshops, social services and more. You can learn more about ECS here. Those interested in making a donation to the organization’s efforts can do so here.

Tegenu conducts STAR-Full Life dementia training sessions as part of an extensive, three-year, $1.2 million dollar grant project being conducted by Full Life to develop, enhance and implement dementia-capable services that will address gaps in services in King and Snohomish counties for adults with Alzheimer’s Disease-Related Dementias (ADRD) and their paid and family caregivers. All of Full Life’s staff are required and Home Care Aides are encouraged to take the training. It is also offered to community members who may be caring for someone with dementia.

The training curriculum is evidence-based and derived from 20 years of research by University of Washington’s Linda Teri, Ph.D., and Sue McCurry, Ph.D. The two developed step-by-step methods of working with dementia patients on day-to-day challenges caregivers face. The result of their work is practical, effective techniques for helping clients accomplish everyday tasks and improve their quality of life.

Home Care Aide Mestefakir Kassa took one of Tegenu’s training sessions earlier this year after coming to work for Full Life. Mesti used to work at the Ethiopian Community as a program assistant. She was impressed by the valuable information and thought Ethiopian seniors would be, too. She took her idea to Sophia and Tsega and they readily approved.

“I am so proud of Tegenu,” Mesti said. “Dementia is very, very new for many of our elders. It’s usually an untouchable issue. But now it is touched by Full Life Care.”



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Full Life Care, EIN 91-1095588, is a public charity recognized as tax-exempt by the IRS under Section 501(c)(3) located at 4712 35th Ave S, in Seattle and registered with the Washington State’s Charities Program as required by law.