The East-African country, Kenya is populated by 48 million people that mostly reside in rural areas. Recent statistics from the year 2016 found out that the prevalence of mental health disorders like depression, anxiety and panic attacks and mostly dementia (above the age of 50 years) was predicted to be 5.6%, which is 8.7 million people that are currently surviving with dementia. According to the indications of the World Health Organisation, Africa has got the fastest rate of senior population in the entire world and hence this calls for a need for the policymakers, authorities and governments in Africa to stay as vigilant as possible to be able to meet the needs of the aging population. 

The underdeveloped state of Kenyan healthcare system

Amidst the epidemic that is spreading pretty fast among the seniors, it is unfortunate to note that the healthcare system of Kenya is not developed enough as against countries like the UK and the US. There are very few doctors who specialise on neurological disorders like dementia. Not only that, majority of the health care institutions in Kenya do not still abide by the international standards due to restrained resources, capabilities and equipments. It is still a country that’s gradually developing and hence there are lots of works to be done in order to make the public understand what dementia is and how to look for the best possible interventions. 

It will scare you to know that dementia is a disease which is totally unknown in several parts of Kenya as there is not enough information on this neurodegenerative disease. This doesn’t imply that there are no dementia cases in Kenya. Most people (including the medical professionals) don’t know what symptoms and initial signs to watch out for in order to diagnose this disease. They generally assume that dementia is nothing but a normal part and parcel of aging and they would provide all sorts of support to their family member who is suffering from it without seeking help of any professional medical interventions. 

Kenya and its healthcare challenges

Due to the fact that there is extreme dearth of awareness and comprehension of this disease, there aren’t any local terms in their language with which they could describe this disease. Not only is there is lack of diagnosis but there are also several cases of misdiagnosis as well. In Kenya and other places, there were many who were misdiagnosed with diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, depression, high level of blood pressure or even a combination of two diseases. 

There were several others who often spoke of chasing one hospital after another where different doctors ending up diagnosing them with various illnesses and providing treatments. Caregivers felt very hopeless and helpless as the people who should have been informed about the knowledge of the disease misguided them. As there is no free healthcare system in Kenya, people have to seek help of costly private treatments for which many poor patients even had to sell off their assets. 

Stigma was one more challenge which was reportedly experienced by the families that had patients suffering from dementia and this stemmed from lack of awareness of the disease. It was not only triggered by members of the public but also from relatives. An interviewee even went to say that she planned to commit double suicide (she and her husband) due to being diagnosed with dementia. Just as mental illnesses are stigmatised in Kenya, dementia is also not an exception. Other countries like Australia are much more advanced in their treatments and they even have home care services Prestons to make sure the patient is safe at home. 

One more major challenge is their dearth of government support. There are no proper policies, legislation or service provision. Dementia is not even a serious disease that is there on the government agenda and majority of the caregivers felt that the government didn’t even have any awareness of the issue. Due to this lack of information, it makes it tough for the caregivers to spread awareness. 

Is there a hope for the Kenyan healthcare system? 

The ADOK or Alzheimer’s Dementia Organisation of Kenya is an organisation led by caregivers which was founded recently in 2016. Though the organisation is young enough yet their ultimate aim is to offer training to dementia caregivers, provide them counseling services and teach them about skills to cope with the disease. Not only that, the members also supports them spiritually, financially and emotionally by paying home visits and raising funds during funerals. 

They also have an online platform through which they can share experiences and ask for support for any obstacle they’re facing. There are guest speakers who can boost knowledge of dementia and answer questions which they have. This group is working hard to increase awareness of dementia through media and to offer information to the public and other professionals. ADOK is also striving to include dementia care within the main government health strategies by requesting the government to focus on their cause. Once the government officials get involved, things will become easier. 

ADOK and their noble goals – How they flourished eventually

ADOK started appearing on 5 locational television channels among which 4 were in English and one featured in Kikuyu which is a local language of Kenya. For the very first time, there was a feature film on dementia that was done in local language and this film achieved more than 18,000 views on YouTube while the others received 1000 views. More and more feedback needed to be created in the Kenyan local languages. 

21st of September is World Alzheimer’s Day and in the year 2016, this day was marked by several events at the Kenyatta National Hospital which was the biggest one in Eastern Africa. All the programs were done under the partnership of ADOK, Kenyatta National Hospital and Ministry of Health. During the event, Dr. Njguna spoke about the dire need of much more researches on dementia policies in Kenya. 

The second goal of ADOK is to provide support to families of people suffering from dementia, especially the caregivers. They are also systematic about conducting a support group meeting every month in Nairobi. Though this meeting automatically becomes more easily accessible to people who live close to Nairobi, yet there are several others who join in from other places. ADOK also held a therapy session for the caregivers to give them a chance to express their artistic opinions. 

Thanks to ADOK that for the first time in Africa, there is a public health response to neurodegenerative disorders. This was never done before as policymakers and government authorities have just kept on thinking on it but never came with ideal solutions. Kudos to their commitment and passion to work in collaboration with other countries and organizations to create awareness for this disease. 

 Dementia – A brain disorder which sets you on a race against time

As per estimates from the World Health Organisation, the life expectancy of an individual in Kenya has improved from 51 years to 63 years by the turn of a century. By the time it is 2030, it is being expected by the Ministry of Health that life expectancy will shoot up to 70 years. Nevertheless, with age, there is an increased risk of suffering from degenerative diseases like dementia which robs people of their golden years. 

Dementia is a neurological disorder which is marked by memory loss, behavioral changes and inability to perform regular activities and decide on vital things. Someone who is suffering from dementia will experience issues like not being able to recognise loved ones, not being aware of what’s going on in the surroundings or not being able to feed without help. Though dementia is a disease which affects the senior population, yet it can’t be said that it is a normal part of aging. 

Potential causes of this neurodegenerative disorder

You need to know that Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia among seniors who have reached 65 years of age and Alzheimer’s accounts for 65-75% of the dementia cases all over the world. However, there are several other conditions like stroke, chronic alcoholism, herpes virus, Wilson’s disease, vitamin deficiency, thyroid disease and HIV infections. 

Though age is the biggest risk factor for dementia, there are some who will develop dementia at a ripe age even when their mind is at its sharpest stage at 20s. Besides age, the other factors which develop dementia are lifestyle habits, health influences, drinking and smoking. People who have a family history of dementia usually stand a bigger risk of developing the disease with time. 

The early stage of dementia is usually overlooked as the onset of the disease is usually too slow and can continue over a period of many years. Though the early symptoms vary, the common symptoms include not being able to track time, forgetfulness, not being able to recognize familiar places and many such signs. 

It is sad enough to note that there is not just one test to decide whether or not someone is suffering from dementia. Doctors first diagnose Alzheimer’s and several other forms of dementia based on the medical reports of the patient, MRI scan, physical examinations and on examining the day-to-day behavior of the patient. The early stage of dementia is usually overlooked as the symptoms often mimic those of aging. However later on, as dementia progresses to the middle stage, the signs get clearer. They forget recent events, they wander away from home and get lost, they find it difficult to communicate and are even not able to feed themselves on their own. 

The later stages of dementia include total inactivity and dependence on the caregiver. Disturbances of memory are severe and even the physical symptoms get too obvious and clear. Till now there has been no such proper cure of dementia but there are certainly medicines which can reduce its progression. 

Diagnosis of dementia and proper management – What is required in Kenya?

Improved education and better health services are the causes behind an increased life expectancy in Kenya. As against 50 years back, an increasingly large number of people are living for more than 60 years. WHO reports that life expectancy has been up to 63 years and as we think of a long and relaxed retirement, it is tough to think of a life where you fail to recognise your near and dear ones. Yes, this is what happens when you’re attacked by dementia!

How can someone reduce the risk of dementia?

There is almost nothing that you can do about aging or about genes and heredity but you can definitely do something about your health. If you can control your weight and keep it within the required level, this will help you avoid being obese and can safeguard you against several serious diseases. Apart from checking your weight, you also need to maintain the right level of blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol so that the functioning of the brain remains perfect. If you’re a smoker, you should avoid smoking and ditch alcohol. Avert any kind of head injury as this can sometimes lead to dementia later on. 

Regular exercise can also be challenging to your brain through mental, cognitive and social activities and this also leads to reduced risk of dementia. As long as a healthy diet is concerned, it should be low in red meat and high in olive oil, coconut oil, omega 3 fatty acids, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, legumes and Vitamin E. 

In case of progressive dementias, there is no treatment or cure which can halt its progression. However, there are drug treatments which can gradually reduce its progression. In Kenya, there is lack of awareness which leads to barriers and stigmatization to care and diagnosis. Rather than branding seniors by saying that ‘they’re behaving in a strange manner’, you should give them love, care and understanding. Take them immediately to a psychiatrist or a mental health counselor so that you can treat things as soon as you can. For patients in Australia, you can seek help of dementia home care Sunshine Coast services in order to help them.