Stigma adding to dementia burden

Patients with dementia experience memory loss, personality changes and impaired reasoning. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH

Dementia, a disease that is mostly affecting aging Kenyans, is leaving a trail of hopelessness and financial pain due to lack of awareness, experts have said.

“There is a lot of stigma surrounding the disease and most people think that one is bewitched or they have annoyed the gods and they are being punished by being unwell,” said Elizabeth Mutunga, who founded the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Organisation of Kenya (Adok) in memory of her father.

Patients with dementia experience memory loss, personality changes and impaired reasoning. Alzheimer’s is the common type of dementia.

Dr Simon Njuguna, a mental health director at the Health ministry, says the rising numbers of Kenyans with the disease poses double burden to the elderly who are also getting non-communicable ailments such as cancer and diabetes. ‘’Dementia has huge financial, emotional and social cost. It affects the productivity of an individual,’’ he said during the World Alzheimer’s Day two weeks ago. (September 21)

Unfortunately, there are no official statistics on the number of Kenyans suffering from dementia.

‘’This is partly due to the stigma, thus many people don’t talk about it. Another reason is that the disease is still not understood in Kenya and most patients are misdiagnosed as having diabetes, infection or blood pressure instead and thus will be treated for that and not dementia,’’ Ms Mutunga says.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is pushing governments to come up with dementia plans or strategies on awareness, risk reduction, diagnosis, care and treatment and research.

Ms Mutunga adds that her organisation receives calls from caregivers seeking guidance on where to get the correct diagnosis for their loved ones or how to handle them especially if they become violent.

“We are at the nascent stage of understanding of dementia thus a lot of awareness is required to understand the disease,’’ she says.

According to the WHO, Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia— a syndrome in which there is deterioration in memory, thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday activities.

Alzheimer's disease may contribute between 60 and 70 per cent of dementia cases.

Although dementia mainly affects older people, it is not a normal part of ageing.

Worldwide, around 50 million people have dementia, and there are nearly 10 million new cases every year, estimates by the WHO showed.

Nearly 60 per cent of those with dementia worldwide live in low- and middle-income countries with the estimated proportion of the general population aged 60 and over with dementia at a given time is between 5 to 8 per 100 people.

The total number of people with dementia is projected to reach 82 million in 2030 and 152 in 2050, according the WHO. Much of this increase is attributable to the rising numbers of people with dementia living in low- and middle-income countries.

There is no treatment currently available to cure dementia or to alter its progressive course. Numerous new treatments are being investigated in various stages of clinical trials.

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