An estimated 10,000 Ghanaians are suffering from dementia, which is a neurological disorder that affects the brain leading to the gradual loss of the short-term memory of an individual.
The condition also affects the ability of the affected persons to understand what is happening around them and causes them to be confused as well as frustrated as they can no longer do things that they used to do without support from other people.
Dr. Akwesi Osei, the Chief Executive Officer of the Mental Health Authority (MHA), stated this at the 2017 World Alzheimer’s Day conference held in Accra on Tuesday on the theme: “Remember Me”.
He said although the statistics were huge, a large number of the condition was not reported because they were often treated as an ‘old age syndrome,’ where older persons often forgot their names, that of their relatives or failed to recognize their environment.
He said because of the lack of knowledge of the condition in Ghana and Africa in general, there was no recognition at all for proper caregiving, protection of the rights of sufferers, proper health care interventions nor initiatives to create public awareness for early reporting.
Dementia, he said, was a real tragic illness, because it was an irreversible condition which damaged the brain cells, and the dangers were that it could not be easily diagnosed, but its progression could be slowed down with some medication if patients reported early to the hospital.
Dr. Osei said the nation had not done well at all in terms of taking care of its aged persons and giving them the required professional and mental health care.
He said “Alzheimer’s is a reality and all are potential candidates,” saying awareness about the disease had been a major problem as knowledge about the dangerous silent killer was not widely known, but were often lumped together with other mental health conditions.
The United Nations, he said, in recognition of the impact of the disease globally, set aside September 21 annually, for the acknowledgment, create awareness and to intensify advocacy to affect policy changes.
The day was also to ensure that people living with the condition got the best of health care, social support as well as respect for their dignity, rather than being stigmatized and ostracized as witches.
Mr. Ato Wright, the Vice President of the Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders Association of Ghana, said although the exact cause of dementia was Alzheimer’s which was one of the types of dementia was not readily known.
He said risk factors such as excessive alcohol abuse, smoking, Hypertension, stroke, diabetes, lack of some vitamins such as B6 and B1, road crash, food contamination with heavy metals as well as genetic pre-disposal exposures could trigger the illness.
Mrs Esther Dey, the Executive Director of Alzheimer’s Ghana, mentioned some of the symptoms apart from the loss of short-term memory as disorientation of place, forgetfulness which was often characterized by a condition called denial, delusion, hallucination, aggression, sleep disturbances and the loss of interest in things that they used to enjoy.
These, she said could be reduced by addressing the known risk factors and gave the assurance that the Association would continue to intensify its advocacy to attract the attention of government and other stakeholders to join hands in providing quality care, as well as strengthen legislation on stigma and discrimination of persons with mental health disorders.
The Conference which was organised by the Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders Association of Ghana (Alzheimer’s Ghana), as part of activities to commemorate the Day, therefore sought to highlight the plight of people with mental problems such as dementia and their families in Ghana’s aging population.
It also sought to create awareness about the dangers of excessive use of mercury in “galamsay”, which was a major cause of dementia, as well as the livelihood issues involved, and shed light on the unique impact of the disease and mental health conditions on women, including the stress associated with caregiving.