Kenya: What You Need to Know About Dementia

7 November 2017

We are not having enough conversations about dementia.

This is because the younger and middle-aged generation imagines that it isn't their problem. At least not a direct one. After all, dementia only affects the older people, right? Well, wrong! New statistics from the world Alzheimer report 2015 put the number of people getting this illness at 3 people every second.

And no, it is not an old people's problem. Salome Chira, a clinical officer and the executive director of At home healthcare Kenya shares that she has had dementia patients who are as young as 30. Salome gives us a look into what dementia really looks like;

What is dementia?

It is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory and thinking. The symptoms include memory loss, getting confused in unfamiliar surroundings, depression, and a change in personality, difficulty doing tasks that require planning, difficulty finding the right words, becoming slower in physical movements and visual hallucinations. Later dementia comes with incontinence, weight loss, mobility problems and communication problems.

What causes it?

It can come about due to a wide range of reasons. Reversible dementia which is about 20 percent of all dementia cases can be caused by drugs, physical trauma, nutritional deficiencies, endocrine disorders, alcohol and emotional traumas. The leading cause of irreversible dementia is Alzheimer's. It can also be caused by Parkinson disease or Lewy body.

Who does it afflict?

Contrary to popular belief, dementia is not age selective. While the older generation reports more cases of dementia arising from Alzheimer's, there are dementia patients in Kenya in their early and mid-thirties. Dementia interferes with a patient's ability to perform everyday activities making a patient need an all-round caregiver. This makes dementia everyone's problem.

People with a family history of this illness, those with mild cognitive impairment, low levels of education and those who have had a traumatic brain injury are at a higher risk.

What is the cure?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for this illness. There is no means of slowing down its progression either. The medication available for dementia only serves to make the symptoms less severe.

How can you handle it as a family?

Imagine that in the midst of juggling work and your young family, your parent or your parent in-law gets diagnosed with dementia.

What then?

Salome stresses that before looking at the care options that a family has, it is important that all family members are trained on care for dementia patients even if they do not live with the patient. At the moment, there is the virtual dementia tour available for caregivers in Kenya today. A caregiver is put in a state of the mental health for eight minutes to get a feel of a day in the life of the patient. Having a feel of it helps them relate with patients better.

The disease stage is what determines the care options for your patient. No one type of option can be said to be best for a dementia patient. Salome, however, recommends home care in surroundings that the patient is familiar with. This includes hiring a caregiver at home to take care of the patient. This, however, is expensive and not affordable for everyone. This may mean getting one member of the family to be the primary caregiver.

If your parent is the patient, discuss with your siblings during the early disease stages the care plan. This should include where the patient will live as well as the finances. Waiting until the last minute might lead to poor choices being made. If this conversation is had early enough, you will be able to loop in the patient so as to get their preferences.

If you are the primary caregiver, it is wise to seek out a support group. Knowing that, you are not alone will go a long way. Having somewhere to connect with others on the same journey as you also gives you some time away from the patient to recharge.

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