A study published by the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, in the Journal of Global Health Reports, has discovered that dementia has increased astronomically in Nigeria in the last two decades.
Dementia is a brain disorder that affects communication and performance of daily activities. It is an umbrella term for a set of symptoms including impaired thinking and memory loss. It is often associated with the cognitive decline of ageing.
The global epidemic that has been found to occur more in low and middle-income countries is closely linked to population ageing and thus may continue to rise for decades.
According to research, about 47.5 million people are living with dementia globally, with over two-thirds residing in LMICs, including Africa, where there is very limited access to social protection and relevant care, services and support.
This first national comprehensive study equally revealed that several communities in Nigeria still link dementia to a normal process of ageing, with many patients stigmatised and abandoned in the belief that their condition is beyond any medical intervention.
Thus, many of those affected delay seeking medical care and endure poor outcomes. However, the situation is exacerbated by poor mental health service access, which partly results in high out-of-pocket expenses that few can afford.
It has been estimated that the number of dementia cases increased by over 400 per cent over a 20-year period, from 63,500 in 1995 to 318,000 in 2015, among persons aged ≥60 years.
Prevalence was highest in North Central, followed by North West and South West, while the prevalence was also higher in urban settings compared to rural settings.
Alzheimer’s disease, one of the sub types of dementia, had the highest prevalence, while other dementia sub types had prevalence rates less than 1 per cent.
According to the UN estimates (based on Nigerian census), the population of Nigerians aged ≥60 years nearly doubled from approximately 5 million in 1995 to 9.5 million in 2015.
Thus, even if the existing age- and sex-specific prevalence of dementia remains stable, there will be an increase in the number of older individuals at risk of progressing into dementia
According to the Lead Researcher, Dr. Davies Adeloye of the Centre for Global Health Research, University of Edinburgh, some of the factors responsible for the prevalence of this disease include genetic, cultural, and nutritional variation in the country.
Dr Adeloye urged the government to provide comprehensive care and support institutions for people living with dementia as this is currently lacking in the country.
The researcher advocated for a bill broadly focused on protecting the rights of individuals with mental disorders and setting standards for mental health practice in the country.
He said it is therefore important for policymakers to direct efforts at ensuring adequate infrastructure, personnel, training and research that focus on dementia, among other important mental health needs, in Nigeria.
Note: ≥ means greater than or equals to.
Dementia is not a specific disease. It’s an overall term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities.
Vascular dementia, which occurs after a stroke, is the second most common dementia type. But there are many other conditions that can cause symptoms of dementia, including some that are reversible, such as thyroid problems and vitamin deficiencies.
While symptoms of dementia can vary greatly, at least two of the following core mental functions must be significantly impaired to be considered dementia:
- Communication and language
- Ability to focus and pay attention
- Reasoning and judgment
- Visual perception
People with dementia may have problems with short-term memory, keeping track of a purse or wallet, paying bills, planning and preparing meals, remembering appointments or traveling out of the neighborhood.