Facts to Know about Dementia in Nigeria

Dementia is a collective term used to describe various symptoms of cognitive decline, such as forgetfulness. It is a symptom of several underlying diseases and brain disorders.

Dementia is not a single disease in itself, but a general term to describe symptoms of impairment in memory, communication, and thinking.

While the likelihood of having dementia increases with age, it is not a normal part of aging. Around the world, every three seconds, someone develops dementia. By 2017, those living with dementia was close to 50 million. And by 2050, that number is expected to be close to over 130 million.

The global epidemic that has been found to occur more in low-and-middle-income countries is closely linked to ageing.

It is estimated that about 47.5 million people are living with dementia globally, with over two-thirds residing in LMICs in Africa, where there is very limited access to social protection, relevant care, services, and support.

This study also showed that some Nigerian communities still link dementia to a normal process of ageing. With many patients stigmatised and abandoned in the belief that their condition was beyond medical intervention, many of those affected delayed seeking medical care and endured a poor outcomes.

Consequently, many of those affected delay seeking medical care and endure poor outcomes. This is worsened by poor mental health service access which partly results in high out-of-pocket expenses that few can afford.

The study authors estimated that the number of dementia cases increased by over 400 per cent over a 20-year period, from 63,500 in 1995 to 31,8000 in 2015.

Prevalence was highest in the North-Central followed by North-West and South-West. While the prevalence was also higher in urban settings compared to rural settings, according to the study. Alzheimer’s disease, one of the subtypes of dementia, had the highest prevalence, while other dementia subtypes had prevalence rates less than one per cent.

The lead researcher, Dr Davies Adeloye, of the Centre for Global Health Research, University of Edinburgh, said some of the factors responsible for the prevalence of the disease included genetic, cultural, and nutritional variation in the country.

It was stated that the current challenge facing Alzheimer, which is the second global leading cause of disability after stroke is the rise in number of people having the disease, which could likely increase to 74.7 million in year 2030 and an estimated 131.5 million in 2050.

Delivering the 2018 Gabi Williams Alzhiemers Foundation (GWAF) Lecture in Lagos, with the theme: “Challenges faced by Nigerian families dealing with Dementia: what can be done?” Consultant Neuroepidemiologist, Department of Medicine, University of Ibadan, Prof. Adesola Ogunniyi explained that the rising prevalence of dementia in Africa is worrisome with an estimated and projected number of cases to include 3.48 million in 2030 and 7.62 million 2050 as against the 2.13 million in 2015.

According to the 2017 Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) report, this shows 257 per cent increase between 2015 and 2050.

It was decried that in Nigeria, caregivers often do not report symptoms, such as hallucinations and delusions, in their demented relative for fear of having him or her diagnosed as suffering from mental illness, a disorder that carries a considerable stigma in different cultures in the country.

Experts said this could develop to advance stage of dementia thereby creating huge burden for the caregivers.

The prevalence and cases of dementia is tremendously increasing in Nigeria, driven mostly by rapid population ageing. There are still very few holistic population-based studies on dementia prevalence and risk, and this seemingly sustains a poor understanding of the diseases across many Nigerian environments. While there is need for the government and policy makers to tackle this issue more proactively, the country may also benefit from international collaborations towards advancing dementia research and overall mental health services in the country.

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