Cape Town - More than 2.2 million South Africans have Alzheimer’s, and many live with the stigma attached to the condition.
September is World Alzheimer’s Month.
Alzheimer’s South Africa spokesperson Debbie Beech said: “In South Africa there is still the stigma in rural areas that people with Alzheimer’s are ‘bewitched’ or are simply acting out.”
She added that people exposed to stress or who had a family history of Alzheimer’s were predisposed to the disease.
But a lack of exercise, obesity and an unhealthy lifestyle can also increase the chance of getting Alzheimer’s.
“The brain is a muscle that needs to be exercised. This can be done through crossword puzzles, reading, exercise and stress reduction. This can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s,” said Beech.
Some symptoms include memory loss, difficulty naming objects, lack of hygiene and extreme mood swings.
”Unless you are seen by a neurologist or psychologist, the disease is difficult to diagnose. “In the public health care sector, patients suffering from Alzheimer’s are also often misdiagnosed,” said Beech.
She said Risperidone – the common medication used to treat Alzheimer’s – was not very effective.
Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo’s spokesperson Colleen Smart said Risperidone was used in state hospitals for diseases such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and psychosis.
“Risperidone is not indicated on the provincial formulary for Alzheimer’s or dementia. Medicines used in the state (hospitals) are approved by the South African regulatory body for medicines. The province has not received any reports or signals of harm (connected) with Risperidone,” she said.
Smart said the National Essential Medicines List Committee provided guidelines for medicines used in public health.
Council for Medical Schemes spokesperson Elsabe Conradie said Alzheimer’s disease was not a Prescribed Minimum Benefit (PMB) condition on the chronic disease list, diagnostic treatment pairs or emergency medical conditions list.
“The medication for this condition cannot be on the list as a PMB as it is not listed as such. In case of non-PMBs, the scheme rules apply,” she said.
“If patients’ savings accounts are depleted or benefits all used up, they have to pay out of pocket.”
This would make treatment expensive for some patients.
Deputy Minister of Health Joe Phaahla’s spokesperson Khutso Silas Rabothata said the department assisted wherever it could.
“There is, however, not much effective intervention possible. The main need is psychosocial and the Department of Social Development is then primarily responsible,” he said.