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World Mental Health Day:  It’s dementia, not witchcraft

By Marvelene Ekott

The fear that runs through your mind when your eighty-year-old mother walks up and down your staircase every night weeping and soliloquizing that she wants to go home to her family and you wonder if you aren’t her daughter anymore.

World Mental Health Day:  It's dementia, not witchcraft

The hyperactivity of your middle-aged neighbour that always wants to climb to the top of your roof and the rebellion in his eyes when you try to stop him. You wonder why mum pursues you severally and has forgotten the name of her favorite son yet she remembers every detail of the Nigerian civil war. It isn’t witchcraft, it’s dementia.

Dementia is not a specific disease but a group of conditions characterized by a decline in memory, problem-solving, reasoning, language, thinking skills and performance. World Health Organization identifies Alzheimer’s disease as the most common cause of dementia and it is responsible for 60-70% of cases. Behavioral and Psychological Symptoms of Dementia (BPSD) include; increased agitation, anxiety, wandering, aggression, delusions, and hallucinations.

Stages: No dementia—–>Very mild cognitive decline —–> Mild cognitive decline —–> Mild stage dementia —–>Moderately severe cognitive decline——> Severe cognitive decline——>Last stage dementia

Dementia occurs when the brain’s healthy nerve cells (neurons) stop working, are unable to receive an impulse from other brain cells and in the long run die. Every human loses neurons with age but in dementia patients, the loss is very severe. As much as dementia is rampant in individuals (from 85 years and older), it is not a normal part of the aging process. Many people live in and above 90 years without any type of dementia. Young people can also have dementia. The frontotemporal disorders are more common with people in the middle ages than older adults. Lewy body dementia is caused by abnormal deposits of the protein alpha-synuclein in the brain.

It typically begins at age 50 and affects more men than women. Mixed dementia is when a person has a combination of two or more types of dementia. Vascular contributions to cognitive impairment and mixed dementia are examples of progressive brain disease. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, HIV associated dementia are conditions that can cause dementia-like symptoms. Medical assessment for dementia involves; getting the patient’s medical history, physical examination(a measurement of blood pressure and vital signs) and neurological tests. Cognitive tests to assess memory, language skills and problem-solving, laboratory tests of blood body fluids and vitamins, brain scans like computed tomography, psychiatric and genetic test are medical procedures to diagnose dementia.

The best ways to care for dementia patients are by providing reassurance, giving them a calm and relaxed environment, engaging them in activities that boost their confidence and give them pleasure like music, games or dancing and giving them little kids or animals to play with under watch as well as massage. Dementia patients are not witches and wizards, let’s help them live.

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