A STUDY DONE IN THE FREESTATE FINDS SOME ANSWERS: 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.