Rampant memory loss in old Kenyans not normal – Report

Forgetting where you placed your shoes is a simple sign of disorganisation, or normal ageing.

However, forgetting what shoes are used for or how to wear them is not normal and could point to early-stage dementia.

This is a general term for ongoing deterioration of brain functioning leading to forgetfulness, poor communication, and impaired thinking.

Although the likelihood of developing this syndrome increases with age, it is not a normal part of ageing.

However, a new study shows many Kenyan health workers cannot properly diagnose the first signs of dementia.

This means affected Kenyans have a generally worse lifestyle than they would if the symptoms were picked early.

“We found a general lack of knowledge of dementia amongst family carers, healthcare professionals and the general public,” says a paper published by the Nairobi-based Africa Mental Health Research and Training Foundation.

The researchers were exploring perceptions towards dementia and related care in rural Kenya.

Their findings, titled “Perceptions and experiences of dementia and its care in rural Kenya”, show that dementia is poorly understood in Kenya and often dismissed as senility.

There is no treatment for dementia, but early diagnosis allows a person to benefit from available options to manage symptoms and improve quality of life.

“The combination of poor awareness and ill-equipped healthcare systems leads to stigma manifested in the form of patchy diagnostic pathways, neglect and abuse,” says the paper, published in the Health and Nursing Journal in April.

The researchers mobilised 38 people comprising carers of persons with dementia, health care providers and the general public, in focus group discussions.

Additional five individual interviews were held with carers.

“Across the three participant groups, a total of four themes were identified negative stereotypes of dementia, limited knowledge about dementia, diagnostic pathway and neglect and abuse,” the authors say.

They recommend that county governments could take advantage of the existing family and community-based systems to improve understanding of dementia nationally.

Alzheimers disease, a progressive disease that destroys memory and other important mental functions, is the most common form of dementia.

According to the World Health Organisation, Kenya is among countries that lack a national policy on dementia.

The burden of the disease is expected to increase because more people are living into old age.

In 2020, the population aged 65 years and above in Kenya was 1.3 million people, compared to 393,000 people in 1971.

The number of old people has been growing at an average annual rate of 2.56 per cent because of better healthcare and higher living standards.

The Global Status Report on The Public Health Response to Dementia, released last by WHO last week, says the burden of dementia is growing globally.

“It is estimated that in 2019, 55.2 million people worldwide were living with dementia… there will be about 78 million people with dementia worldwide in 2030 and about 139 million in 2050,” the report says.

In people aged 60 years and older, dementia is among the top ten causes of years of healthy life lost due to disability.—The Star

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