Mental Health: Impact of dementia on individuals, families and communities

Dementia affects over 50 million people worldwide.

As discussed in previous articles, mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a meaningful contribution to their community.

Dementia affects over 50 million people worldwide.

With access to adequate health care and life expectancy improves in Africa, it is estimated that the prevalence of dementia will increase significantly over the next 30 years.

As we mark Dementia Action Week from September 18 to 24 , let us reflect on the impact this life-altering condition has on individuals, their families and our communities.

What is dementia and what puts us at risk of developing dementia?

Dementia is a group of conditions that affect brain cells and disrupt our ability to think clearly, remember well, learn new concepts, make sound decisions and solve problems.

Dementia is a leading cause of disability, poor quality of life and loss of independence in older adults. However, dementia is not a part of normal ageing.

There are many risk factors for dementia that can be prevented or modified and in doing so one can reduce their risk of developing dementia. Risk factors for dementia include:

  • Increasing age: occasionally dementia may occur in young people but usually occurs in adults over 65 years
  • Female gender: women are disproportionately affected by dementia
  •  Physical health problems such as hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity
  • Lifestyle issues: like physical inactivity, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption
  •  Social isolation and loneliness
  • Previous history of depression

Could I or someone I know be developing dementia?

  •  Are you over 65 years old and increasingly becoming forgetful?
  •  Do you often misplace things such as keys, your wallet or important documents?
  •  Are you struggling to keep up with conversations?
  •  Do you often struggle to find words of common objects?
  •  Are you struggling to remember the names of people who you should be familiar with?
  •  Do you often find yourself getting lost in familiar places?
  •  Are you struggling to make decisions or solve everyday challenges you face?
  •  Are you increasingly irritable or annoyed or having mood swings?
  •  Has your family noticed a change in your personality?
  •  Are you struggling to connect socially, or preferring to avoid social interactions altogether?

How does dementia affect individuals, families and communities?

Dementia can affect the individual by:

  •  Decreasing independence and ability to function and live independently
  •  Decreasing self-confidence and a sense of self-worth and functionality declines
  •  Decreasing ability to be productive and to contribute effectively in the community
  •  Increasing social isolation and loneliness as ability to communicate effectively declines
  •  Stigma, ageism and elder abuse due to lack of understanding about the causes of dementia; discrimination and denial of opportunities and exposure to physical, verbal, emotional; financial abuse and neglect

Dementia can affect the family and community by:

  •  Increasing caregiver burden: care for the elderly in many African communities often falls on the family rather than on institutional care facilities. While this is a good support for many older people and provides individualized, culturally appropriate care, if the burden is not managed appropriately this can lead to caregiver fatigue and burnout.
  •  Financial burden: families will often face significant costs related to health care and daily supportive care due to dementia. There is often limited support mechanisms to support families faced with the challenges of dementia. Dementia is often a long term problem with those diagnosed with the condition often living many years and sometime decades after the diagnosis but with increased need for medical and social support

Public health interventions to address the impact of dementia

There are many interventions that can help ease the impact of dementia on our communities including:

  •  Development or enhancement of an integrated policy for supporting older people in our communities including adequate financial support for older people
  • Promoting screening for cognitive disorders and early identification and early interventions to improve outcomes for those affected
  • Supporting dementia prevention interventions including prevention, screening for and effective management of hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol
  • Supporting active lifestyles and continued social participation of older adults in social and economic activities for as long as is possible
  •  Improving support for caregivers of those with dementia to prevent caregiver fatigue and caregiver burnout

If you think that you or someone that you know maybe struggling with memory problems or any other mental health problem, please contact your nearest health care provider and get help.

 *Dr Chido Rwafa-Madzvamutse is a consultant psychiatrist. Feedback on WhatsApp: +263714987729

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