WYLD received an invitation to attend the first conference on dementia in Nigeria, Africa from September 20-22, 2016 and I volunteered to go. With help from family, friends and a few strangers, I was able to raise half the cost to attend. Armed with a hefty amount of vaccinations, a Business Entry Visa and WYLD materials I embarked on the 27 hour journey to Lagos, Nigeria.

On the plane to Lagos with everything I need to get to the conference!

The 3rd African Regional Conference “Dementia in Africa” was hosted by Alzheimer’s Disease International and held within the gated and guarded enclosure of the Institute of International Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria. The air was thick and humid, I was always warm but never uncomfortably hot. There were geckos scurrying around and banana trees everywhere.

The day before the conference began, delegates were invited to meet the King of Ibadan, Olubadan of Ibadanland, His IMPERIAL Majesty, Oba Saliu Olasupo Adetunji, AJE OGUNGUNNISO 1. I was able to pay His Highness regards and explain WYLD’s international mission to bridge intergenerational gaps in work around people impacted by dementia and related disorders. The King was pleased with our delegation and not only lent us armed police escort back to IITA but joined our conference (twice!) the next day!

The Institute of International Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, host for the 3rd African Regional Congress on Dementia

The following three days of presentations covered a variety of topics including: dementia and the nation, personalized interventions and care services, pharmacy and dementia, the prevalence of dementia in Africa, World Alzheimer’s Report 2016, superstition and dementia, bridging the old and modern traditions of medicine in Africa, State Alzheimer plans, the World Young Leaders in Dementia (WYLD) Network and the Toronto Seniors Strategy.

According to many representatives, stigma around mental health and secrecy is high. One particular pair of presenters, (“Headman” Coster and Berrie Holtzhausen, CEO of Alzheimers Dementia Namibia [ADN]) explained together that people labelled as a witch or considered bewitched are often older women and may be exhibiting symptoms of a neurocognitive disorder. These associations of witchcraft generate fear and mistrust among communities. Especially in rural communities, this stigma can lead to people living with dementia being isolated, confined and even killed. Traditionally, suspected witches or victims of witchcraft (bewitched) are referred to a Witch Doctor (Sangoma) where people, usually with little income, may pay large sums of money for traditional medicines. With the help of Berrie and ADN, Headman Coster is learning about dementia and enabling strategies to share with his community.

Headman Coster talks about the understanding of dementia in his village and how he is working with his community to inform people and protect those with dementia.

On World Alzheimer’s Day, Wednesday, September 21, 2016,  I delivered my presentations on the WYLD Network and the Toronto Seniors Strategy. In the evening, WYLD hosted its African Regional meeting on the IITA outside patio (thankfully covered, as we received a hefty dose of tropical rain!). We had introductions and discussed dementia-related interests and work of attending members.

Our main meeting outcomes for WYLD in the African Region for dementia work were:

1) Tools – to develop workshops, policy recommendations and events

2) Resources – to raise awareness and promote educational opportunities

3) Meeting in Kenya – to host a WYLD meeting in Nairobi, Kenya during “Brain Ageing and Dementia in LMICs (Low-middle income countries) 2016”, December 5-9, 2016

Working with people from across the continent of Africa to develop effective strategies for people with dementia.

On the final day, conference delegates developed a communiqué outlining 11 Action Items for the African Region. A total of 13 countries were represented: Nigeria, Kenya, France, United States of America, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Mexico, Canada, Namibia, Ghana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa including the World Dementia Council, Kings College London and World Young Leaders in Dementia (WYLD). Chief Kikelomo Laniyonu Edwards, the conference organizer and newest appointed Member to the World Dementia Council vowed to carry this work forward in Africa (click here for more information).

It was a great honour to take part in this ground breaking work. There are very few programs or services explicitly for older adults, with or without dementia, across Africa. However, other countries could learn a thing or two from what I saw in Nigeria about deep-rooted value for older people. Sadly, one presenter commented that with the increase of idealized ‘nuclear’ families in Africa, community support structures for older people are dwindling. We look forward to deepening our ties and collaborating together to build strong connections and generate opportunities to learn and work with people across Africa.

Rebekah Churchyard

To see the presentation or with any other inquiries, please contact rebekah.churchyard@gmail.com.

Check out my (first!) Storify here: https://storify.com/rchurchyard/wyld-at-the-1st-nigerian-conference-on-dementia  

Meeting the King of Ibadan, High Chief Saliu Adetunji

Dancing during celebrations at the conference