by Audrey Throne

Dementia: A rising problem in Africa

2 years ago | Posted in: Health | 630 Views

Understanding dementia

Dementia is a global phenomenon and is a term that is usedto describe a host ofbrain disorders.Itaffects people’s abilityto do daily tasks and live independently. Some major symptoms of dementia are memory loss, poor decision-making ability, verbal speech impairment and loss of focus.

The most common type of dementia that usually strikes older people is known as Alzheimer’s disease. Some other types of dementia are vascular dementia, Lewy Body disease and fronto-temporal dementia.Another type of dementia that is also becoming common in older adults is mixed dementia in which characteristics of more than one type of dementia occur simultaneously.

The recent Alzheimer’s disease International report states that by 2050, 130 million will be affected with dementia. Sadly, 70% of this figurewill be from developing countries. Currently, it is estimated that 47 million people are living with dementia and there is an expected increaseof 10 million per year.

Unfortunately, in today’s age and time, pharmaceutical companies and researchers have not yet succeeded in developing a drug that cures dementia. However, if diagnosed on time, medicines can significantly slow down the degeneration of brain cells. Unfortunately, once an individualis affected with it, there is no cure for it.

The second most common dementia after Alzheimer’s is vascular dementia, comprising 20-30% of total dementia cases.Vascular dementia occurs when there is a problem in blood supply to the brain and the brain gets permanently damaged. Albeit very common, it is still an unclear why it develops in the first place.

Dementia in developing countries, especially in Africa

Developed countries such as Sweden and UK have managed to stabilize the spread of dementia by changing the physical and mental approach to their health. With changes in diet, reduced smoking, less depression, exercise, and increased cognitive stimulation, developed nations are proving to be successful in combating dementia.

However, the same cannot be said about developing countries. On top of all the challenges they face, the burden of non-communicable diseases is on the rise too. Africa faces the highest rate of increasing elderly population and dementia there is sadly disregarded as a sign of aging.

This unawareness means that dementia remains undiagnosed in the aging population. Moreover, their condition is going unrecorded.A recent study revealed that dementia in the black population was nearly three times more than it was previously recorded.

Currently, 60% of the population with dementia resides in less developed countries with the number expected to rise to 71% by 2050.

Amongst developing countries, Africa is expected to see a major increase in the number of dementia cases in the future owing to certain factors, the first and foremost beingits ageing population. Dementia is more common in older people and Africa has the biggest population of older adults.

Though rare, an increasing number of cases where young people are being affected by the disease are also surfacing. Another reason why dementia is on the rise in Africa is because of an increase in non-communicable diseases and HIV.

Non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension are on the rise in Africa due to adoption of western eating habits of fast food. These food items are high in sugar and fat and common amongst poor people living in urban areas. These diseases are also vital factors in the growing rate of dementia in Africa.

Additionally, older people affected by HIV are at a very high risk of HIV-associated dementia as well as vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s.

The above statistics clearly indicatethat dementia is on the rise in Africa and measures need to be taken to save the growing population from it.

Challenges of dementia in Africa

People face numerous challenges with dementia and they are exacerbated if patients are from developing nations such as those in Africa. Due to the low level of awareness in the continentand other developing countries, stigma is associated with the disorder. Patients are abused and usually face isolation as well. Moreover, people displaying signs of dementia in rural Africa are associated with witchcraft!

The Department of Health in Africa has not even labeleddementia as a disease. Hence, those with dementia are unprotected by government policies. Therefore, patients experience a high level of exploitation at the hands of the community with no policies in place to protect them.

How can dementia be managed

Developed countries are a proof that even though dementia may not be completely cured, it can be managed. By meeting the following requirements, we can cope with it at a national as well as an individual level;

1.       Awareness of the condition and its symptoms

Awareness of dementia amongst people is absolutely critical in slowingdown the rate of dementia. Research reveals that even an infant’s brain can beimprovedif they consume certain food items. Vital brain powering food groups includeomega 3 fats, vitamin D and coconut oil,that can help in making minds sharper and more agile, thereby decreasing the risk of dementia.

2.       Timely diagnosis

In developing countries where dementia is left undiagnosed, reaching a timely diagnosis is a difficult obstacle. Even in developed countries, dementia is diagnosed 3-4 years down the road when drugs do not work as well as they could have in the very early stages. Hence, a timely diagnosis will take effort at a national level to first create awareness.

Another solution is theBrainTest®app which can be used to assess, in under 15 minutes, if a person is facing mental decline.The online version of the sage test highlights all types of cognitive issues. On the basis of the results, a physician can then conduct further tests to deduce if the cognitive decline is due to dementia or other treatable diseases.

3.       Adequate support

Support is needed at all levels including individual, community and government to protect those with dementia. Health drives should also be conducted at the mass level to reinforce healthy eating and fitness habits in individuals that will help combat diseases like dementia, diabetes, heart diseases etc.

All in all, it’s suggested that further research is carried out on the prevalence of dementia in Africa.Doing this will noteffectively help in raising awareness regarding the problem but will also compel the authority to make it a public health priority.



Author Bio:  Audrey Throne is a mother of a 2-year old and a professional blogger by choice. Throne is passionate about health, technology, management, and blogs frequently on these topics.  Find her on Twitter: @audrey_throne.

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