A neurologist, Dr Temitope Faronmbi, has said that occurrence of hallucinations in old people should not be termed as “witchcraft’’ but a symptom of a medical condition known as dementia.
Faronmbi, who is of the Geriatric Centre, University College Hospital, Ibadan said this at the Second Oyo State Public Lecture on Dementia held in Ibadan on Wednesday.
Dementia is a decline or loss of memory, reasoning, judgment, behaviour, language and other mental abilities that are not a part of normal aging.
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that the lecture was entitled: “Dementia! Not Witchcraft”.
Faronmbi, who said that while dementia is a disease which is often seen in older adults of age 65 and above, it could also affect people of younger age.
She said: “Dementia is a disease of the brain that often affects older adults and when it affects them, they don’t actually know what they are doing.
“They often say things that are out of place and can’t perform their normal daily activities.
“This prompts people to call them callous names like witch, brutalise them and abuse them physically or neglect them.”
Faronmbi said that she sees up to nine new cases of dementia on a weekly basis at the geriatric centre.
The neurologist identified some early signs of dementia as short term memory loss, language difficulties and extreme emotional disturbances.
She said: “Symptoms of dementia vary considerably by the individual and the underlying cause of the dementia.
“Some symptoms include hallucinations, uncharacteristic behaviour, mood swings, paranoia and suspiciousness.
“People with dementia also show decline in level of functioning; disorientation in unfamiliar surroundings and they may wander and become lost.”
Farounbi said that some causes of dementia include aging, alcoholism, tobacco smoking, drug addiction, genetic factors and head injury.
She said that while dementia was not curable it could be treated while its symptoms and complications could be relieved by medical treatment.
She said: “Dementia is not curable but symptoms can be treated to make life more meaningful.
“Drugs are available to slow down the progression to improve quality of life.”
Dr Fisayo Adepoju, a consultant geriatric psychiatrist, called for increased awareness and public sensitisation to stop the abuse and stigmatisation of people with dementia.
Adepoju said: “People with dementia are still human beings with individual characters and they should not be treated less than any other human.
“Dementia is not witchcraft, demonic possession or punishment from God, it is a medical condition and support is key in managing dementia and caring for people with dementia.”
Dr Saidu Dumbulwa the National Project Coordinator, Healthcare Package for Improving Quality Care on Ageing Population, said that about 18 million Nigerians are above 60 years of age.
He said: “Nigeria’s aging population is ever increasing from 4.5 per cent in 1991 to about 10 per cent in 2019 with an estimate of about 18 million out of the 200 million population.
“It is quite unfortunate and callous that those affected with chronic diseases such as dementia are socially stigmatised and called names.
“Despite recently observed progress in population health generally, there still remains an urgent need to accelerate progress in improvement of healthcare of the aged with adequate social security.
“Otherwise, we will be off-track toward attaining the SDGs, especially the health-related SDG 3.”
Dumbulwa said the HEPIQ-C Project was aimed at addressing the fundamental pillars that ensure healthy aging through significant reduction of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality of the older persons in Nigeria.