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CAMEROON: My Father Has Dementia. Let's End the Stigma.

Nakinti
Posted November 2, 2017 from Cameroon
Photo Courtesy of Nakinti

The pain of watching her father lose his memory inspired Nakinti to take the first step towards changing her community’s perception of dementia.

“There is no way to prepare for your father forgetting who you are.

“Nyangwe nja?” my 90-year-old father asked me in our native language.

This was in May of this year, and it had been 20 minutes since I had entered our family home to spend a short holiday with my parents.

I could not believe what I was hearing. He had asked me who I am. He had said, “Who is your mother?”

I couldn’t respond immediately because of the shock. My father had started losing his memory to dementia years before, but hearing him ask me who my mother was caused me to rush out of the room and cry my eyes out.

In this moment, I was not only crying because I was losing my dad as I knew him, but because I feared that I may age like him and lose my memory one day too. I resemble my dad in so many ways—physically, genetically, naturally, and emotionally—and I was panicking.

Through my tears, I rushed to meet my mum who was cooking a welcome meal in the kitchen. I explained to her that Daddy had asked me who my mother was. I saw my mum look in one direction for close to three minutes, then her eyes went heavier and heavier until a heavy tear rolled down her aging cheek. She gently dropped the cook spoon she was holding and quietly headed to the living room where Dad was sitting and counting the number of flower designs on the table cloth in front of him.

Mum sat down and explained to him.

“This is Nakinti Besumbu Nofuru. She is our daughter. She is the one you used to call Sister because she bears your sister’s name, Besumbu. We had her when you were still practicing as a nurse in Bai Estate Hospital. She is the one who is in Bamenda. Remember we have spent two vacations at her house in Bamenda for months. Don’t worry, you will remember everything in a day or two.” I was touched by how my mum explained to her husband who I was. She spoke in the most loving and understanding way.

My dad has been sick for over 10 years and so he has been on medications for a decade. He suffers from diabetes, hypertension, cardiac problems, teeth problems, and a resultant minor eye problem. Over the years, we have watched him lose his memory bit by bit. His doctors who give him routine check ups every three months told us a few years back that our father was suffering from dementia. They have always taken time to explain to us what dementia is and how it manifests. We felt prepared for him to lose his memory, but there is no way to prepare for your father forgetting who you are.

In Cameroon, dementia is not widely known or understood. A large portion of those suffering from dementia are referred to as witches and wizards. They are often abandoned by their children and family, and they are seen roaming the streets, eating from dump sites, and they suffer abuse from community members. Such patients in my country die miserably because of a lack of care. Even their corpses are treated as trash.

I know my dad is lucky to have children who understand his medical condition. Best of all, he is lucky to have a wife whose love for him never dies. A wife who keeps her husband clean, who feeds him, gives him his medications on time, consoles him, and pampers him on his bad days. My dad is lucky. Others may not be as lucky as he is.

My own mind is consumed with questions and worry. What if as I age I become consumed by dementia? Will I have people who will understand my situation? Will I have people in my life who will care? Will I live in a community that will understand? Or will I be left to live amongst people who will label me a witch?

My experience of watching my father experience dementia and my fears of having it myself in the future have pushed me to understand the importance of developing strategies for decreasing ignorance around this condition in Cameroon.

I have started sharing a few thoughts about the need for this on social media, but I feel we must do more. I would like to work with medical experts to help sensitize people to the realities of this illness. To change the experience of those who are affected by this condition, we must have targeted strategies to reach those who are most impacted.

I see messaging campaigns for those living in rural communities who are the most affected by misinformation and ignorance around this illness. We could reach out to women who are the primary caregivers of patients with memory loss. We must build strategies to help all members of communities understand this illness so as to implant behavior change.

I fear that if I don’t lead this campaign, I will have no one to blame if I am left alone and rubbed in the mud due to dementia in my future.

I am convinced that something can be done to help, and that in my own little way, I can work to wash away the stigma of dementia in Cameroon. It starts with sharing about the illness and changing people’s perceptions of it by providing facts. It starts with me.


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Comments 25

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  • Olutosin
    Nov 02, 2017
    Nov 02, 2017

    Thanks so much for writing about this topic. You are right, Africa has not prepared for this, not even prepared for any health issues for that matter, it is better if we are prepared like the Boys Scouts motto. One day, we will become aged too. We can do it, we can build that solid future now.

    I am someone who doesn't believe or rely on any government. our own government. If we can think it, we can do it.

    my warmest regards to your parents

  • Nakinti
    Nov 04, 2017
    Nov 04, 2017

    Dear Olutosin,

    I agree with you, we will become aged too some day, we can do it, we can build that solid future, now. Thank you so much for encouraging me with such kind words. I will pass your greetings to my parents.

    One love

    Nakinti

  • mae me
    Nov 02, 2017
    Nov 02, 2017

    Dear Nakinti,

    Thank you for writing your thoughts about your loving Father.  I have the same feeling as well since my Father is getting old.  Though I understand either we die old or die young, quality time should spend to our parents.  We are more capable as caregivers to our loved ones.  And I support your plan to bring awareness in your community about this illness to change perceptions.

  • Nakinti
    Nov 04, 2017
    Nov 04, 2017

    Dear Maeann,

    Raising awareness about this condition is my greatest wish. A lot of old people have been abused, battered, abandoned and killed because people believe they are practicing witchcraft, meanwhile they are suffering from dementia. This is so sad. I hope we can all be cheerful caregivers to our old parents. Thank you so much for your kind words.

    Love

    Nakinti

  • Aysh Khan
    Nov 03, 2017
    Nov 03, 2017

    Deat Nakinti,

    I know how it feels when your loved ones are suffering infront of you. I have seen my father dying because of cancer. I understand your pain and I pray for his recovery.

    Thank you for raising your voice on such an important issue.

  • Nakinti
    Nov 04, 2017
    Nov 04, 2017

    Dear Aysh,

    It hurts, dear Aysh, it really hurts. I can imagine how it feels, seeing your father die of cancer. Take heart and show him the best care and love today. Wishing your dad peaceful nights and days.

    Love

    Nakinti

  • Awah Francisca Mbuli
    Nov 03, 2017
    Nov 03, 2017

    Sis Nakinti,

    It'sreally hard to open up on this, but I applaud your courage to do so.

    You are a true inspiration and don't relent your effort to create awareness on dementia. 

    Congrats for your .

    God Bless you,

    Francisca Awah

  • Nakinti
    Nov 04, 2017
    Nov 04, 2017

    Dear Francisca,

    Thank you so much for your kind words. I will try by all means to raise awareness about this. Thank you.

    Love and peace.

    Nakinti

  • Jody Yvette Wirt
    Nov 03, 2017
    Nov 03, 2017

    I am so glad you are sharing this and committed to educating others about dementia.  My grandmother had it and my mother is showing signs of it.  Its so hard to see, I feel your pain!

  • Nakinti
    Nov 04, 2017
    Nov 04, 2017

    Dear Jody,

    I am so glad that I am going to free some parents who are passing through maltreatment from their loved ones, by educating them on this condition. I hope many can understand that dementia is a medical condition and not witchcraft. Thank you for your sweet words.

    Love

    Nakinti

  • Ronnie.kpas
    Nov 03, 2017
    Nov 03, 2017

    Thanks nakinti for opening up and sharing your story, pls keep doing your best to see that the ignorance around this illness is a thing of the past.

           veronica haruna

    www.Facebook.com/ajumapeters

    ​​​

  • Nakinti
    Nov 04, 2017
    Nov 04, 2017

    Dear Ronnie,

    Thank you, Ronnie, for reading and for encouraging me. I appreciate. It lights up my world to read such encouraging words from sisters.

    Love

    Nakinti

  • Ronnie.kpas
    Nov 04, 2017
    Nov 04, 2017

    U most welcome dear.

  • Love arundhati
    Nov 06, 2017
    Nov 06, 2017

    Thanks for sharing

  • Nakinti
    Dec 11, 2017
    Dec 11, 2017

    Thanks, Love Arundhati!

  • Wendy Stebbins
    Nov 11, 2017
    Nov 11, 2017

    Nakinti,

    I cannot even imagine the ongoing pain you  have because your father has said goodbye to you before you were ready to say goodbye.  You probably have so many different feelings all at the same time. Your mother and family too. I think when something so sufferable happens, my only resource is to really look at my faith and believe in God and the universe, knowing this is a testing time, a time to dig deep and find out what I am really all about in the context of the world, the universe and the one we call God. What am I supposed to learn? What am I supposed to do? What is the ultimate reason for my being on this planet? Sometimes it has been so bad, I have had to question what could be true in the saying "The gift is in the problem. The opportunity is in the problem."  I cannot even imagine how you process your life right now. But I guess, if it were me, I would be thinking "My father as he is now is a gift God is presenting me for a reason. May I trust and allow the gift to unfold."   I hope I do not sound insensitive. I am trying to be quite the opposite for you.

    In any case, my love and thoughts to you, your mother and all who are touched and affected by your wonderful father's situation. I think the only joy I could get right now, is the knowledge that he is FINE. He is not suffering. 

    Ubuntu,

    Wendy Stebbins

  • Nakinti
    Dec 11, 2017
    Dec 11, 2017

    Dearest Wendy,

    Awwww, your words have touched my spirit and served me with some kind of peace. They are so consoling, so reassuring, and so strong enough to tell me, God does everything for a reason. I can only say that though it pains, my family will keep trusting on God for his plans are always good.

    Thank you so much, Wendy, for your kind words. Hope you are doing fine? Was thinking of you sometime last month, but couldn't find time to write you -- I was still planning to, though! Just to find out how you were doing.

    Regards

    Nakinti

  • Jumi
    Nov 26, 2017
    Nov 26, 2017

    Nakinti thanks for this inspiring story. This part stood out for me: "but there is no way to prepare for your father forgetting who you are." I'm encouraged by the fact that you're moving to do something about the stigma around dementia. There is a lot of misconception around some of these ailments. I hope we can clear them up and bring help to those who need it.

    Way to go, sis.

  • Nakinti
    Dec 11, 2017
    Dec 11, 2017

    Dear Jumi,

    I seriously hope we could clear the stigma up  and bring lasting help to all those who need it. Thank you for that concluding statement, you took it off my tongue. Thank you for the encouragement.

    Love from Cameroon

    Nakinti

  • Jessica Foumena
    Dec 09, 2017
    Dec 09, 2017

    Thank for sharing your story, Nakinti. It's important we address health issues related to mental illness in Cameroon and across the continent. I wish you and your father all the best. Be strong.

  • Nakinti
    Dec 11, 2017
    Dec 11, 2017

    Dear WomenAndAfricaInitiative,

    Thank you so much for reading my story. Thank you for your kind words. You are right, we should address mental health issues across the continent so as to erase misconceptions and stereotypes usually attached to that condition.

    Love

    Nakinti

  • Lily Habesha
    Dec 28, 2017
    Dec 28, 2017

    Nakinti,

    Let us end the stigma.

  • ya -nyonge_2
    Mar 08
    Mar 08

    Hej Nakinti I love this platform. it si my study area . how can I help ?

  • Nakinti
    May 10
    May 10

    Dear Nyonge,

    Thank you for your comment. You can help in several ways. Right now, I am trying to right a movie script on dementia, I will need a lot of material/resources (Information, short videos, articles etc) to bring this to light

  • kitty
    Apr 19
    Apr 19

    Dear Olutosin,
    You're really inspiring. this is a really hard topic to open up about, and it is really good of you to address it. I agree, this is something that needs to be widely known, and we must know how to help those that are affected.
    Best of luck,
    Kitty