Alzheimer's disease a social issue
by Nande Fayo

There has been a rise in the brutal killings of older persons in the country recently, in most cases being accused of witchcraft owing deteriorating mental state caused by Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. It is estimated that there are about 4.4 million people over the age of 60 years living in South Africa, with approximately 187,000 living with dementia. This number is predicted to rise to 250,000 by 2030. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alzheimer's is believed to be progressive disease and the most common type of dementia. It currently incurable and begins with mild memory loss and possibly leading to loss of the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to the environment. It involves parts of the brain that control thought, memory, and language. In South African context, this condition has no boundaries, people suffering from the disease would recall people who passed away many years ago, wake-up at night perform house chores, forget even walking steps, say things that do not add up, rummage through drawers and cupboards, interchanging personality and mood swings.

The Deputy Minister for Social Development, Honourable Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, visited the Chris Hani District in the Eastern Cape Province following slaying of about eight elderly people in a short period of time. Her visit was to raise awareness on serious elderly person’s health condition called Alzheimer’s and dementia. She provided intensive education to the people regarding the disease, how those affected should be cared for in all aspects of daily life. Honourable Bogopane-Zulu said the disease is “democratic”, it does not choose it affects everyone as it is not gender based thanking the United Nations for recognising and declaring certain days that allow countries to realise its challenges especially the World Alzheimer’s Day commemorated on 21 September. She alluded on Social Grants that are meant to be a blessing to older persons but rather have changed to be a tragedy as older persons are killed after receiving the money saying that the Department will have to relook the provision of older person grants. She said the campaign was to uplift “imbeko”, calling on people to respect older person on whatever they are doing and handed over to everyone small panic gadget that make noise and subsequently report to South African Police Services when in need. 

Nosizwe Lewu, 76, is a traditional healer living in the Eastern Cape province in a rural town called Cacadu, an area where the has been a number of incidents where older persons particularly women are heartlessly murdered. She testifies to be suffering from the disease and recalls an instance where she hid money (R4000.00) under carpet and could later not remember where she hid it. It took her about a month to find the money. This old woman is also a victim of Gender Based Violence, where survived seven (7) stabbing wounds, a horrific incident that took place when she was sleeping at her home with her grandchild. She fought back with her traditional spear (Umkhonto) and also wounded the perpetrators who were then prosecuted. She laments dishonest traditional leaders saying in some instances it is them (traditional leaders) who are misleading people who are consulting for traditional assistance by falsely accusing elderly relatives and even neighbours of witchery due to greed. 

Gcinikhaya Koki from Zingqolweni Village in Cacadu said they knew nothing about the word (Alzheimer’s) and the disease thereof. He was presenting a report on community dialogues which revealed that older persons are most often killed after receiving Old Age Grants in the beginning of the month making an example that at Zingqolweni; one (1) person was killed on 01 December, one (1) on the first days of January, four (4) killed in 01 February, and three (3) in May. Mr Koki said they don’t to shy away from a view that the perpetrators are young people with the rise of alcohol and drug abuse being a contributing factor to these evil deeds. He said they also noted the lack of respect and “spirit of Ubuntu” in their community.