During early middle age, many bodily functions begin to gradually decline. People do not become old or elderly at any specific age. Traditionally, age 65 has been designated as the beginning of old age and this age comes with some health challenges such as Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. The greatest known risk factor is increasing age, and the majority of people with Alzheimer’s are 65 and older. Alzheimer’s disease is considered to be younger- onset Alzheimer’s if it affects a person under 65. Younger-onset can also be referred to as early-onset Alzheimer’s. People with youngeronset Alzheimer’s can be in the early, middle or late stage of the disease.
In order to ensure that adequate care is given to senior citizens that are suffering from this disease, the former Minister of Women Affairs, Josephine Iyom Anenih founded the Alzheimer’s Disease Foundation (ADF) in 2016. She noted that the purpose of registering the NGO was to have a platform to advocate for recognition and good treatment of persons with Alzheimer’s and other forms of Dementia. “ADF is out to create awareness about Dementia and stop the stigmatization of people with dementia. Generally, due to lack of correct knowledge and understanding of dementia, people accuse them of being witches or mad. This leads to stigmatization and isolation and sometimes outright ostracisation. “Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia. Dementia is not a normal form of ageing but it usually occurs in older people from age 60. However, there are instances of early onset dementia. Dementia is the decline of cognitive abilities and renders a person unable to do activities of daily living. Alzheimer’s can be said to be a disease of the brain. Dementia is not witchcraft, dementia is not madness, some dementia can be referred to as diabetes of the brain,” she emphasised. Still giving an overview, Anenih said: “At our Ignatius Akubude Centre in Amawbia we open our doors to older persons to come in to socialize with others. They play different types of games that help in stimulating the brain and they engage in physical exercises. We have volunteer doctors and nurses who take care of their medical needs. At the centre doctors come in every week to offer free memory tests to older persons who wish.” She added that ADF goes into the community to visit housebound older ones and counsel and support their caregivers. “We also give training to caregivers who do not have proper knowledge of caregiving. We have been able to sensitize an appreciable population around here and the demand for our free services has astronomically increased,” she explained.
As with other NGOs, Anenih states that funding is one of the challenges the organisation faces. “We now have a challenge of funding to meet the increased demands, including expanding the physical capacity of the Centre. Aside from funding the other major challenge is for people to come out and speak up for older persons who are frail or have dementia. Many people are still in denial that their loved ones have dementia so they hide them away and thereby subject them to a miserable and undignified life. Being ashamed to admit the existence of dementia and acknowledgement that it is a condition leads to stigmatization and human rights abuse of the individual concerned.” To address these challenges, she appealed to philanthropists, kind hearted individuals and corporate organisations to donate money and materials to meet their needs.
Senior Citizens Centre
Speaking on the Federal Government’s involvement in attending to the needs of senior citizens she said: “The Federal Government has established a Senior Citizens Centre to take care of that. The National Senior Citizen Centre which is under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development which has the mandate to take care of the social needs of persons including older persons will take care of that.” On the number of people the NGO has impacted since inception she said: “Since we started at the Ignatius Akubude Centre in Amawbia we have physically impacted over seven thousand older persons including men. During the last flood disaster in Anambra State ADF reached out to the displaced persons in Aguleri camp and they were over one thousand including children. We reached out to the IDPs because we wanted to give succour to the old and weak among them.”
on the inspiration behind the ADF she said her brother Ignatius was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and later died from it. “While he was having it and before the clinical diagnosis we had not heard about the disease and did not know what it was. After the diagnosis we started researching it to know and understand it. The journey through it with him was eye opening and traumatic. I then decided when he passed to devote my time to enlightening people and encouraging those whose loved ones are having dementia or coping with other disabilities that may come with ageing.” She expressed her satisfaction with what the NGO is doing. “I am satisfied with what I am doing now because I feel I am empowering people to face and handle the difficult task of caregiving,” she said.
She advised everyone to live a healthy lifestyle. “I would not advise only older women. My advice is to everyone. Everyone should eat healthy and nutritious food, exercise regularly, avoid negativism, embrace spirituality and be ever grateful,” she concluded.