Dementia in Namibia: Disease & Witchcraft

Most of us know of someone living with Dementia or loss of memory. What do we know and how do we deal with it? Different perceptions relate to different cultures; and in Africa the prevalence of the diseases that cause dementia differs from the west. Thus the approach covers a wide range from superstition to scientific methodology. Berrie Holtzhausen tries to demystify dementia in Namibia and explains what this disease entails. Dementia is much more than only losing your memory. Dementia is a terminal illness and not a natural part of ageing. Dementia is caused by diseases of the brain. Alzheimer’s and Vascular Dementia are the most well-known of nearly 100 diseases of the brain that cause permanent and progressive damage to the brain. Although dementia is a terminal illness for which there is no cure or modifying medication, it is possible to live well with dementia. How do we recognize early stages of dementia with persons in our family and ourselves? Which institutions or old age homes do we have in Namibia that have special departments for people with dementia in a progressed stadium?

Berrie Holtzhausen from Alzheimers Dementia Namibia is a born Namibian with a Hon.-degree in Semitic Languages and a Masters in Theology. In 2009 he founded an old age home where he got involved with people living with dementia. In 2010 he renovated an old farmhouse, founded ADN [Alzheimer Dementia Namibia], where he started caring for people living with dementia. Since then he received training on dementia and started lecturing and training himself, e.g. MOOC programs of UTAS, training of nurses and families/friends of people living with dementia, all over Namibia, as part of AND’s awareness and education program. In the Kunene region he found an old lady, living with dementia, being chained in her hut for the last 20 years, because she was called: A WITCH. He trained young ladies from the Himba community to understand dementia. He unchained Ndjinaa, and with the help of a friend build a Himba Dementia Village where Ndjinaa is being cared for in her community for the last 5 and a half years. Through ADN he is also involved in awareness programs in different cities/villages and towns where ADN is trying their best to establish dementia-friendly villages, demystify dementia, educate children and to ‘save’ witches. Berrie Holtzhausen has been one of the speakers at the Africa Alzheimer Conference in Nigeria, the 4th Africa Alzheimer Conference in Kenya, and was invited to the Netherlands to train volunteering nurses on dementia/witchcraft in order for them to understand the connections when working in Africa.