Open Access Research article

Social representation and practices related to dementia in Hai District of Tanzania

Declare Mushi1*, Amen Rongai6, Stella-Maria Paddick2, Catherine Dotchin345, Chauka Mtuya1 and Richard Walker34

Author Affiliations

1 Kilimanjaro Christian Medical University College, Box 2240, Moshi, Tanzania

2 Institute of Neuroscience, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

3 Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, North Tyneside General Hospital, North Shields, UK

4 Institute of Health and Society, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

5 Institute for Ageing and Health, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon, Tyne, UK

6 Partnership for Health and Development in Africa, Moshi, Tanzania

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BMC Public Health 2014, 14:260  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-260

Published: 19 March 2014



With the increasing number of people surviving into old age in Africa, dementia is becoming an important public health problem. Understanding the social dynamics of dementia in resource-poor settings is critical for developing effective interventions. We explored the socio-cultural beliefs surrounding dementia and the life experience of people with dementia (PWD) and their caregivers in the Hai District of Kilimanjaro, Tanzania.


Cross-sectional qualitative design. Forty one PWD were purposively sampled from the Hai District of Kilimanjaro. Twenty five paired interviews with PWD and with caregivers, and 16 with caregivers alone, were conducted. Interviews were tape recorded, transcribed verbatim and analyzed using content analysis approach.


Forty one PWD (26 females), aged 70 years and older, were recruited but due to speech difficulties only 25 participated in the interviews. Married were 13, widow in 22 and widower 6. The majority, 33/41 were illiterate. PWD and carers perceived memory problems as a normal part of ageing. Dementia was commonly referred as "ugonjwa wa uzeeni" (disease of old people) or memory loss disease. The majority of PWD 13/12 and carers 7/16 did not know what dementia is or what causes it. Dementia was felt to be associated with stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, old age, curse/witchcraft and life stress. Half of the participants had used modern care and alternative care such as herbs, prayers or traditional healers. Caregivers complained about the burden of caring for PWD and suggested that community organizations should be involved in addressing the problem.


Knowledge about dementia is low and the symptoms are accepted as a problem of old age. PWD and carers demonstrate pluralistic behaviour in seeking help from modern care, prayers and traditional healers. The disease adds significant burden to family members. Family and caregivers need more education on early recognition of symptoms and cost effective management of dementia at family level. Faith-based organizations could play an important role in dementia interventions. At a national level effective policy and improvement of the health care system to address the needs of PWD and their families are imperative.

Dementia; Social-cultural; Beliefs; Life experience