Written By: Loretta Barton
You see that old lady who sits in a lazy chair all day saying a whole lot of things that barely make sense? Every sentence is followed by many weird hand gestures and the most puzzling part about this is the fact that she does not even know the meaning of all of her expressions.
At night, you might see her walking aimlessly and very disoriented in the compound of what she has called home for several years, with no intention of harming or destroying anyone or anything.
The next thing you know, she is labeled a “witch” in her community by people who lack the necessary education to undertsand the cause of her actions, and as a resul, is tortured and tormented in lieu of getting her nonexistent confessions. This has become a common trend in many African villages today and has caused shame and dishonor amongst our elderly population.
This very real scenario depicts the plight of yet another one of our elderly who has fallen victim to the all too common stereotype of witchcraft and sorcery, a stereotype that is prevalent in many remote regions of our beautiful continent.
In the past, many of our elderly were mislabeled as witches and unfortunately, in some places, they still are. Many of them have been murdered, permanently disabled and/or mentally and physically scarred. Others are abandoned and branded as outcasts as a result of being labeled a “witch.” Are all of them truly witches, or Is it more likely that they are innocent victims who may be suffering from common illnesses that comes with age, such as cognitive decline and dementia of the Alzheimer’s type?
Common signs and symptoms of dementia include delusions, hallucinations, confusion and changes in mood and personality. These are some of the characteristics our elderly population may present, and are often times misinterpreted as signs of witchcraft and sorcery.
This is not to dispute the fact that there are instances where the situation at hand could actually be of evil connotation. This is only to imply that more often then not, there is some type of mental illness behind the peculiar behavior.
Many Africans, including our generation, have been drowned and consumed with thoughts of witchcraft and the sad part about this is the fact that most of the time, the accusation is directed towards a vulnerable population, especially the older adult demographic.
These kinds of accusations must cease. It is time to educate ourselves on some of the various mental health issues that older adults encounter. Dementia and Alzheimer’s is a disease that is prevalent among the elderly, ages 65 and up. We need to educate ourselves and our communities about these diseases in order to know how to better treat our “wise mentors.” It is time to make the health of our elderly a priority and to think of ways to improve their quality of life as long as they are alive and thriving.
Our “nasihas” (wise advisors) are there to guide us and impact us with words of wisdom and to nourish our souls with the knowledge of life. They deserve to be treated with the respect and honor, that is prevalent and preached in most African cultures.
The time has come for us to enlighten ourselves. The time has come for us to redeem the greatness of the culture that taught us the importance of the older people in our communities. The time has come for us to make this world a better place for our “men and women of astuteness”. Lets educate ourselves, and take it upon ourselves to also educate our communities.