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Social representation and practices related to dementia in Hai District of Tanzania

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Stella Paddick, Dr Catherine DotchinORCiD, Professor Richard Walker



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Background: With the increasing number of people surviving into old age in Africa, dementia is becoming an important public health problem. Understanding the social dynamics of dementia in resource-poor settings is critical for developing effective interventions. We explored the socio-cultural beliefs surrounding dementia and the life experience of people with dementia (PWD) and their caregivers in the Hai District of Kilimanjaro, Tanzania.Methods: Cross-sectional qualitative design. Forty one PWD were purposively sampled from the Hai District of Kilimanjaro. Twenty five paired interviews with PWD and with caregivers, and 16 with caregivers alone, were conducted. Interviews were tape recorded, transcribed verbatim and analyzed using content analysis approach.Results: Forty one PWD (26 females), aged 70 years and older, were recruited but due to speech difficulties only 25 participated in the interviews. Married were 13, widow in 22 and widower 6. The majority, 33/41 were illiterate. PWD and carers perceived memory problems as a normal part of ageing. Dementia was commonly referred as " ugonjwa wa uzeeni" (disease of old people) or memory loss disease. The majority of PWD 13/12 and carers 7/16 did not know what dementia is or what causes it. Dementia was felt to be associated with stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, old age, curse/witchcraft and life stress. Half of the participants had used modern care and alternative care such as herbs, prayers or traditional healers. Caregivers complained about the burden of caring for PWD and suggested that community organizations should be involved in addressing the problem.Conclusions: Knowledge about dementia is low and the symptoms are accepted as a problem of old age. PWD and carers demonstrate pluralistic behaviour in seeking help from modern care, prayers and traditional healers. The disease adds significant burden to family members. Family and caregivers need more education on early recognition of symptoms and cost effective management of dementia at family level. Faith-based organizations could play an important role in dementia interventions. At a national level effective policy and improvement of the health care system to address the needs of PWD and their families are imperative.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Mushi D, Rongai A, Paddick SM, Dotchin C, Mtuya C, Walker R

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: BMC Public Health

Year: 2014

Volume: 14

Online publication date: 19/03/2014

Acceptance date: 10/03/2014

Date deposited: 03/09/2014

ISSN (electronic): 1471-2458

Publisher: BioMed Central Ltd.


DOI: 10.1186/1471-2458-14-260

PubMed id: 24642112


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