My grandfather grew very old before he died. He was even tired of living, and silently prayed for death to come and take him as it did his mates.

He had trouble sleeping, had no appetite even for his favourite bitterleaf soup, got easily angry and always seemed to be on the edge. He would sneak in beer into his room to drink, even when he knows he’ll end up barfing. Sometimes, he would sit on his chair and not talk to anyone, his eyebrows creased in worry. Other times, he would take strolls and come back very late. No one talked about his behaviour, we only intensified our care.

We all thought he was tired of living, and that was the only thing he had to excuse his weird behaviour. It soon worsened though; he would sit for hours only to wet himself, he was always forgetting faces and events, was always so confused and forgetful. No one bothered to check if there was something wrong with him, he was a man who lived a good life and now old age was simply taking its toll.

Then he died, and years later I still wonder if it was collectively dementia.

With years of reading and researching, I got to understand that dementia is not just a specific disease but a collection of symptoms that occur because of a variety of diseases. And some of these diseases include: Alzheimer’s diseases and vascular dementia (which occurs after a stroke). Dementia is often incorrectly described as senility, and this propagates the belief that such mental illness is a part of aging.

Dementia is caused by damage to the brain cells, which in turn hinder the communicative ability of these cells. The symptoms may include memory loss, difficulty in concentrating, finding it hard to carry out familiar daily tasks, such as getting confused over the correct change when shopping, struggling to follow a conversation or find the right word, being confused about time and place, and mood swings. However, these symptoms may worsen over time.

And never forget that dementia is global and does not discriminate, even your grandparents in the interior village of Ugwaka can have it.