Funke Olaode writes that Lemon and Feathers, a social enterprise established in 2016 to promote the care of the Nigerian ageing population, recently held its inaugural conference themed, ‘Aging in the Developing World, the Nigerian Story’, with focus on dementia in ageing
In 2015, a group of well-meaning Nigerians with diverse backgrounds and first-hand experience in caring for their elderly both informally and formally in a resource-limited environment as ours, got together to chart a course on how to create value in assisting themselves and other informal caregivers also caring for their own elderly folks.
They see the need to be a voice for the elderly, in order to bring to light their plight to every necessary stakeholder, and also help to enlighten them on how to access various much-needed information, assistive products and essential services.
Ageing, which simply means to grow older naturally, may come with serious physical, psychological and social challenges. Hence, public enlightenment of the ageing population in preparation for old age and more fulfilling life in their twilight years is of utmost importance. One very common factor associated with aging remains dementia.
Dementia and especially Alzheimer’s disease is fast becoming an everyday conversation. Hardly is any family or extended family not affected by at least one person suffering (or having suffered) from dementia, especially AD.
Unfortunately our improving life expectancy has now exposed us to the increased burden of dementia.
Advocacy groups and NGOs are desperately needed to drive the quest for early diagnosis, treatment, family and social support, public education and also research in the field of dementia and AD. Hence, the conference.
The epoch event, no doubt brought confidence, relief and enlightenment to many older persons who are suffering from progressive decline in cognitive functions due to diseases or damage in the brain beyond what is expected from normal ageing.
In his address, the guest speaker, Dr. Seyi Roberts defined aging as the amount or duration of time during which a person or animal or plant has lived or the amount of time during which a thing has existed.
He said, “Age is therefore all about time, and specifically, elapsed time, everybody and everything ages, time waits for no one.
“Human beings have always had a love and hate relationship with age. When we are young, we want to age quickly and become adults so we can indulge in adult activities and privileges.
“But when we hit middle age, we now want to slow down or halt the ageing process so we can remain young and youthful indefinitely. The current reality is that ageing is still an inevitable accompaniment of life itself.
“We are all going to age and die at some time, hence the need to prepare for ageing and the challenges that may come with it. The length of life itself is one of the organism’s most integral genetically programmed characteristics.
“For example, the rat survives for 2 years, the Rhesus monkey for 20-25 years, the African elephant for 70-75 years, humans for 80-85 years, and the Galapagos tortoise for over 100 years. The shortest lifespan on earth is that of the ‘Mayfly’ which is, 24 hours.”
Dr. Roberts defined dementia as a broad category of brain diseases that causes long-term loss of the ability to think and reason clearly, which is severe enough to affect a person’s daily functioning.
He noted that Alzheimer’s disease is the commonest cause of dementia, responsible for 75 percent of all cases of all dementias.
Roberts explained further, “Prevalence of dementia worldwide in person 65 years of age and older is six to 10 percent, with AD accounting for 75 percent of cases. Between 60 to 69 years of age, the prevalence of AD is less than one percent. In 75 years olds, it’s five to 10 percent, but in persons of ages 90 to 95 years old, it’s about 40 to 50 percent.
“The world prevalence of AD is currently put at about 30 million, projected to hit 106 million by 2050. Note that there is no age at which AD’s prevalence is 100%, therefore it is not an inevitable accompaniment of old age.
“In Nigeria, the prevalence reported in the general population is somewhat lower than the world prevalence, but this may just reflect our lower life expectancy in the third world. AD affects men and women equally, but increased life expectancy in women may skew the prevalence of them.
“AD and other dementias are more common in African Americans than whites in the USA (ratio 2:1), but incidence is similar all over the world without a racial bias.”
He added that AD is characterized by, insidiously progressive memory loss, behavioral changes, language disorders, (difficulty in naming people and objects), impairment of visuospatial skills, impairment of executive functions, and/or inability to calculate could also be profound.
On treatment, Roberts noted that there is neither cure nor effective treatment for AD, but only symptomatic treatments are available. All drugs approved and available for the treatment of AD only control some of the symptoms, and bring about only a slight improvement in memory and cognitive function in a small proportion of patients.
He also decried as unfortunate that there are only a few dedicated facilities for the care of the elderly and those suffering from dementia (aka Old people’s homes) in this Nigeria. To further compound the challenge of old age in Nigeria, most HMOs and health insurance companies often do not accept persons beyond a certain age for health insurance.
He, however, advocated prevention through exercise, and healthy living, rather than cure.
Roberts said, “There is no proven modality for preventing AD. However epidemiologic evidence suggests that a healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk of AD.
“Physical activity, exercise, and cardio-respiratory fitness may be protective. The Mediterranean diet may also be protective; light to moderate alcohol drinking may reduce the risk of AD.
“A healthy sleep pattern has recently been shown to reduce AD risk. It has also been suggested that engaging in regular intellectual and brain-tasking activities like reading and solving puzzles may help to reduce the risk of developing AD.”
He pointed out that the ultimate solution to the care of the aged and those suffering from dementia in our country is universal health coverage, without discrimination on account of age.
He recommended that a federal government scheme similar to the medicare programme in the US for senior citizens (over 65 years) should be considered.
“Lawmakers in the 9th National Assembly will eventually live up to their responsibility and ensure the pending bill for mandatory UHC is assented to by the President, failing which they should proceed to override a presidential veto and pass the law for the benefit of all Nigerians, young and old,” said Roberts.
In a separate statement from Lemon and Feathers, the organization revealed that there are plans underway for the construction of an affordable and accessible care home for the senior citizens.
The statement said, “We are poised at Lemon and Feathers to promote and offer diverse support services to seniors in Nigeria which will also include outsourcing, concierge services, health, and social escort services, professional care services, logistics, home retrofits and adaptations along with lifestyle-enhancing products and services, training, events, etc. We also plan to adopt and support indigent community facilities.
“Our plans are already underway for the design and construction of the first of its kind Proposed Care Home Facility, affordable and accessible to the average Nigerian.
“It is set out to provide care at various levels for daycare, respite, and short term and long term care. Other facilities include a recreation centre for social networks and a resource centre with diverse lifestyle resources, products, and services meant to assist the ageing population and their caregivers with information on quality living and a more adaptable lifestyle as required.
“Ageing, which simply means to grow older naturally, may come with serious physical, psychological and social challenges. Hence, public enlightenment of the ageing population in preparation for old age and more fulfilling life in their twilight years is of utmost importance to our organization.”