Dementia, which is a clinical syndrome caused by neurodegeneration and characterized by progressive deterioration in cognition and capacity for independent living, has been discovered to have increased astronomically in Nigeria in the last two decades. This was unveiled in a study published by the Journal of Global Health Reports (published by the University of Edinburgh).
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. It is estimated that 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 reveals 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% over a 20-year period, from 63500 in 1995 to 318000 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 subtypes of dementia, had the highest prevalence while other dementia subtypes had prevalence rates less of than 1%.
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. He urged the government to provide comprehensive care and support institutions for people living with dementia as this is currently lacking in the country.
He 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. 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.
In 2014 and 2017, Dr Davies Adeloye, a renowned Epidemiologist with extensive clinical, research and training experience spanning Nigeria and the United Kingdom, also led similar studies on Hypertension and Type 2 Diabetes in Nigeria, respectively.