Here in England we are becoming increasingly familiar with dementia. What is this disease? What are its common symptoms? More crucially, how does it progress and why is it becoming more of a burden for family caregivers and the healthcare systems. All of this means that our society is getting better at recognising the challenges of dementia and becoming more accommodating when we meet somebody who has dementia. However, there are many countries around the world where there is a wide scope for improvement (including Pakistan). It is believed that the dementia will affect strongly low- or middle-income countries like Pakistan where the proportion of older population is increasing the fastest, general awareness is low and the required resources to meet this public health challenge are scarce.
This seminar will present the key findings of a recently concluded research project that focuses on understanding challenges of dementia in the socio-cultural context of Pakistan. We find that there is limited awareness among the public about dementia and it is often believed to occur as a part of the normal ageing process, secondary to traumatic events, stressors or physical weakness. Another barrier is the stigma associated with dementia, similar to other mental health issues, which has arisen as a result of underlying negative and inaccurate beliefs. Such beliefs place the individuals or their family at fault of negligence. Families also downplay cognitive difficulties of their elders to a great extent, often reporting that the patient has always had such symptoms, but their memory is excellent as they remember details of past events.
These insights are drawn from semi-structured individual interviews of people with dementia and their caregivers, in focus group discussions with public and key informants including clinicians and academics. The project is funded by Age International and Age UK, led by Prof Asghar Zaidi. The research team is made up of partners from University of Southampton (Dr Rosalind Willis), Brighton and Sussex Medical School (Dr Nicolas Farina, Dr Sara Balouch), Aga Khan University Karachi (Dr Qurat Khan), Alzheimer’s Pakistan (Dr Hussain Jafri), and HANDS International (Dr Irfan Ahmed and Ms Rubina Jaffri). Advisors included Dr Yasmin Rashid, Provincial Minister of Punjab for Healthcare and Medical Education, Dr Maryam Rab of British Council Islamabad, Prof Murad Musa of Aga Khan University and Simon Hunt of Oxford Policy Management.