When the brain fails to work

Lawi Joel

A JOURNALIST’S biggest tools of trade are their pen, a notebook and a camera. I always carry all these with me all the time.

However, a piece of this paraphernalia may be missing for some reason, except that I do not remember having lost my notebook. That is, if ever at all that has happened. However, I do remember having lost my pens, cheap instruments of work that you can buy for as much as 50/-.

What seems not interested to stay long with me is a camera and I have lost this instrument several times. In fact, in a short space of time last year I lost three of them, one at a different time.

That is very careless of me, you may say. Maybe! But that most valuable piece of my professional equipment just disappeared from my hand, so it seemed. The cameras – three of them – were indeed the most expensive gadgets I owned and think I ever will possess in my journalistic profession as equipment and if losing a property were something one would do deliberately, I would not let it happen for all the riches on earth.

But then that is the story. How could I lose a camera of such a venerable name and quality as a CANON make? It may sound so sloppy. I don’t’ want to argue with you it does not. All I know is that it is never in one’s personal will to keep losing one such belonging over and over again.

I will start with the case of the first camera. I had just returned from Sudan where I had been on official trip. Back in Dar es Salaam with the Canon, I set out one morning with my son to see a brother of mine in Dar’s suburb of Tandale.

Whatever they tanned in that dale! “Let me carry the camera for you,” the boy said. “You are too forgetful and might lose it.” I became defensive.

“It is you who are too forgetful and will surely lose it,” I spat back and became more determined to keep the gadget with me. When we reached my younger brother’s house the boy asked me, “Where is the camera, Father?” I was shocked.

Good gracious! Had I ever had a camera? I did not know where on the bus I had left the camera. It was gone. I bought a second one right here in Dar es Salaam, a black SAMSUNG masterpiece with an 20mm lens.

Till this minute I do not know where in the house or on the street the camera is. But for all I know, it is gone for good. My meager income notwithstanding, I crave an expensive, powerful camera.

And so, almost immediately after the disappearance of the black SAMSUNG instrument for recording images, I bought another SAMSUNG product, an improvement of the last one.

Its twisted fate was on the way, though. Last December I went for a holiday in my village in Rorya and took many pictures there for stories I wanted to write. I was intent to make the most of the holiday and was, so to speak, well prepared for the time.

On my return to Dar I had my camera with me most of the way up to Mwanza. It was at sunset when I reached the rock lakeside city.

After checking in at the passengers sleeping place, I walked out into town to do some last minute shopping. When I returned to the travelers’ boarding house on a bodaboda I felt for the camera which I had put in my coat pocket.

It was not there! Search hard for it as I could, I just could not find it. I must be having a problem, I told myself. I keep losing things more because of forgetfulness than for any other reason.

Providence must have heard my complaint and answered it, throwing me onto the path of a medic whom I told about that problem of mine. I should see a doctor, said the medic.

I know I now belong to the group of people they call old, but I am not senile. Correctly, ideally and essentially, I am just matured. What then was wrong; was it senility? It just could not be!

“You could be having dementia,” the medic said. Perhaps I had the health problem. I started with what the word ‘dementia’ meant and went online. The information I got there began with what symptoms dementia has and before I read on I hoped my forgetfulness was not one of them. The information said each person is unique and will experience dementia in their own way.

“The different types of dementia also tend to affect people differently, especially in the early stages. “Other factors that will affect how well someone can live with dementia include how other people respond to them and the environment around them.”Yes, that was correct.

People must treat me with respect, not laugh at me, I thought. “A person with dementia will have cognitive symptoms (to do with thinking or memory),” the source went on.

“They will often have problems with some of the following: day -to-day memory – for example, difficulty recalling events that happened recently, concentrating, planning or organising – for example, difficulties making decisions, solving problems or carrying out a sequence of tasks (such as cooking a meal), language– for example, difficulties following a conversation or finding the right word for something, visuospatial skills – for example, problems judging distances (such as on stairs) and seeing objects in three dimensions.

“For example, losing track of the day or date, or becoming confused about where they are.” Although I still make correct judgment of distances, I was now getting scared of descending the stairs. Was dementia beginning to swallow me?

“A person with dementia will also often have changes in their mood. For example, they may become frustrated or irritable, apathetic or withdrawn, anxious, easily upset or unusually sad,” the information added.

That part of the message reassured me and I knew I was well and safe because I am always a jolly guy, not sad. But what followed scared me again. “With some types of dementia, the person may see things that are not really there – visual hallucinations or strongly believe things that are not true – delusions,” said the Net message.

Only the other day I had thought I saw a dog on the road, but really it was not there because it just disappeared into thin air! All in all, I convinced myself that I was well because when I had lost my handset in Tarime and gone for it in Shirati by Lake Victoria where it had emerged, I had known well my way there and back home. However, this online information appears determined to kill my joy by adding: “Dementia is progressive, which means the symptoms gradually get worse over time. How quickly this happens varies greatly from person to person.

“As dementia progresses, the person may develop behaviours that seem unusual or out of character. These behaviours may include asking the same question over and over, pacing, restlessness or agitation. They can be distressing or challenging for the person and those close to them.”

The message became frightful. Only the other day I asked my daughter who is staying with me when her leave would end. “Father, how many times must I tell you when?” she said, sounding rather displeased.

“Only recently you asked me that question, and you have done so a couple of more times.” A person with dementia, especially in the later stages, may have physical symptoms such as muscle weakness or weight loss. Changes in sleep pattern and appetite are also common. What causes dementia? There are many diseases that result in dementia.

The most common types of dementia are Alzheimer’s disease and reduction of oxygen supply to the brain caused by narrowing or blockage of blood vessels to the brain. This is the most common cause of dementia.

Of course I have lost some weight though not alarmingly, but my colleague Alpha Nuhu tells me, “The next time it is you who will get lost, not your camera and we will hear you announced on TV to have got lost, having failed to find your way back to the house.”

I hope it does not come to that. There are many other diseases that can lead to dementia.

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