The Michelle Group was founded in January 2009 after an unnecessary car accident involving 16-year old girl (Michelle). As Michelle had a heart for old people and outsiders, it was decided to create a funds in honour of her, supporting the people she loved and cared for. Berry Holtzhausen, the founding member of The Michelle Group soon discovered that Namibia lacked a facility to care for people with Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia Namibia was officially created in January 2012 with the opening of the Dementia clinic at Yakandonga – a farm between Otjiwarongo and Kalkveld. Here specific & specialised treatment is given to patients. However, the caring of dementia patients has started a year earlier.

The Aim of Alzheimer’s & Dementia Namibia

Here in Namibia, people with dementia are still seen as “zombies, waiting for death” or even worse – as the subjects of witchcraft. Families that need to take care of people with dementia often struggle due to the lack of recourses and a lack of knowledge. The Michelle Group Trust aims to create a dementia-friendly Namibia.

But how can this be achieved? Through theoretical & practical education. With more knowledge, families will understand the “worlds” of their loved ones better and in return, cope better with it. In this way they can positively support them to live life to its fullest, even though their brain functions are slowly disappearing or weakening.

The second aim is to create a job opportunity in the training of dementia carers. It is calculated that there are about 8,000 people in Namibia with dementia. At the moment, only 17 of them are looked after at Yakandonga. That leaves us with a whole lot people who desperately need help. Trained carers are either sent to Yakandonga if help needed or they will be placed with a family in need of help.

There are a variety of symptoms in dementia. These symptoms result in people forgetting a lot of things or they struggle with daily activities that cause a lot of frustration. Because a person then struggles to explain or understand his/her frustrations with tasks that are supposed to be easy, they can become aggressive. At Dementia Namibia we choose the anti-psychotic and anti-depression medications as the last options. We do not support the tying down of people and closing them in rooms. We believe that with the right knowledge, the carer or family member responsible for the said person, people with dementia can live effective and full lives. That is also the main idea behind the care unit at Yakandonga.

But what is the difference between Dementia and Alzheimer’s? According to Patty Hastings, Dementia is a syndrome, a group of symptoms that occur together while Alzheimer’s is a disease, a disorder that produces dementia symptoms.

She further states that while dementia is an umbrella term describing a set of memory and cognitive decline symptoms, many different conditions lead to these symptoms. Although Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of dementia, accounting for 50 to 80 per cent of cases, it’s not the only cause. There are more than 70 different causes of dementia and every individual responds uniquely to these causes.