Alzheimer’s. A white man’s disease?

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Alzheimer’s. A white man’s disease?


Author: Dr. Jopie de Beer

There is a belief that Alzheimer’s disease mainly affects white and not black people.  This notion is strengthened by the results of a pilot study performed in Bloemfontein where over a 10-month period only a very small number of patients at a provincial referral hospital were diagnosed with dementia

The truth however, might be that dementia is just severely under-diagnosed and dementia-related symptoms are ascribed to common causes (“elderly are like that”) or witchcraft.  This prevents sufferers of dementia and their caregivers from getting the necessary medical attention and social support…

Fortunately, Prof. Martin Prince of the Institute of Psychiatry, University of London, became concerned about the lack of precise knowledge on the prevalence of dementia in the developing world.  As a matter of fact, world-wide, only 10% of research funds on dementia in the past were spent on the communities in the developing countries, constituting 66% of the world’s population.  In other words, 90% of the funds used to be spent on only 33% of the world’s population.  Prof. Prince, under the auspices of Alzheimer’s Disease International, founded the 10/66 International Dementia Research Group, to address this imbalance by conducting extensive research world-wide and by focussing exclusively on the prevalence, diagnosis and management of dementia in developing countries.  Founded in 1998, this group has achieved remarkable results.  They initiated 36 research centres in 27 countries, utilising 100 trained researchers.  Unfortunately only one of these centres used to be in Africa, that is, in Nigeria.  They meticulously executed pilot studies on the following:

  • Case-finding strategies
  • The diagnosis of dementia
  • The behavioural and psychological problems of patients suffering from the disease
  • Care arrangements
  • Caregiver intervention

These pilot studies enabled the formulation of comprehensive population-based studies and detailed surveys in five countries – Brazil, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, India and China – are presently underway.

However, relatively little has been done up to now in this regard in Africa and knowledge about the prevalence of dementia among the black population in Africa is scarce.  A problem is that such a comprehensive population-based study is very costly.

The good news is that, after a bequest especially for Alzheimer’s disease-related research, Alzheimer’s South Africa can now fund such a project which will be executed by the Unit for Professional Training in the Behavioural Sciences (UNIBS) of the University of the Free State (UFS).  The research team consists of Prof. Adelene Grobler, Director of UNIBS, Prof. Malan Heyns, the Principal Investigator, and Rickus van der Poel, the Study Coordinator, and an extended team of academics especially from the School of Medicine of the Faculty of Health at the UFS.

The study is expected to run for approximately 2-3 years during which households accommodating a population of about 40 000 Sotho- and Tswana-speakers will be visited in a effort to make contact with about 2000 elderly of whom presumably 100 will suffer from a form of dementia.

It is hoped that the outcome of this comprehensive study will shed some light on the true picture of the prevalence of dementia in Africa and the effectiveness of diagnostic procedures and home-based management programs.


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Comments (8)

  • jOHN DU PREEZ Reply

    I have been doing my own non-medical private research into the Alzheimer’s disease, mainly because I myself am afflicted with the problem. I live in the Western Cape, where the the so-called coloured people are dominant in most areas. To the coloured people Alzheimer’s is rather a well known problem. I donot think any survey has been undertaken amongst this group.

    I have writtena book about my own involvement and my research and am always willing to share some of my views. Regards John

    19th May 2010 at 2:53 am
    • Elsette S Reply

      Hi John I am involved & working in the field of Alzheimers and Dementia in the Western Cape – how do I get in touch with you? E Strachan

      11th February 2012 at 7:08 am
    • Rayne Stroebel Reply

      Dear Mr. Du Preez.

      I am doing a project as part of my Masters degree in Dementia Studies, and would like to know about your book that you have written and the research that you have done.

      With thanks.

      Rayne Stroebel

      6th November 2012 at 7:38 pm
  • Dorothy Boatemah-Ameyaw Reply

    I did a research into the need of elderly health care in Ghana West Africa. Based on my findings, I’ve started a project on awareness campaign “Dementia is not a witchcraft” in the south eastern part of Ghana, where a 72year old grandma was accused to be a witch and set on fire. She died shortly after a nursing student rescued her in Tema last November.

    I’m in need of suport

    23rd May 2011 at 11:06 pm
    • Anonymous Reply

      Hi Dorothy, I will forward your request and your email address to one of my colleagues, who will follow up with you.

      24th May 2011 at 5:24 am
  • Rfetuga Reply

    What were the results?

    2nd March 2012 at 1:18 am
    • Elsette S Reply

      Dear Rfetuga, I posted a question 2 weeks ago – does
      not look as if this is very active at the moment – I received no reply to date

      2nd March 2012 at 7:48 am
  • Eden Padayachee Reply

    I am a South African born scientist with a mission to curb the spread of Alzheimer’s disease in our proud nation so we can remember our loved ones. I am seeking to consult in Alzheimer’s disease, develop collaborations and consult on drug therapy in this field, am seeking the contacts of KOLs in the field. My aim is to distill the expertise within South Africa as there is a need to develop more exposure to this disease within Africa. Open to collaboration.

    26th August 2015 at 2:02 pm

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