Kenyan psychiatrist visits Lakeview Ranch in Dassel

Oct. 20, 2008

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

DASSEL, MN – Dr. David Ndetei, a psychiatrist from Nairobi, Kenya, said he was impressed with the model of care at Lakeview Ranch of Dassel. It’s unique in that it treats the clients at the ranch as individuals and meets their emotional needs, he said.

Ndetei toured the facility Oct. 10 while he was traveling in the United States and making presentations on mental health issues in Kenya to Americans. The government in Kenya doesn’t pay much attention to mental health issues, and there are few resources there, Ndetei said.

He wants Americans to help Kenyans take mental health issues seriously, and make plans for mental illnesses in elderly people.

Mental illness of elderly people is an emerging issue in Kenya because people are living longer than ever before. He estimates 6 to 7 percent of the population of Kenya is over 65, and it is growing.

Judy Berry is chief executive officer of Lakeview Ranch in both Dassel and Darwin. Her husband, Julius Ohono Keya, has a grandmother in Kenya who is 117. Ndetei also has an uncle who is more than 100.

Ndetei hopes to get an advocacy association started in Kenya that will promote hospitals and find ways to alleviate the stress on families, he said.

Usually, Kenyans keep their elderly family members at home with them. If the elderly family members suffer from mental illness or dementia, it stresses the family, much the same way it often does in the US, he said.

The government of Kenya considers mental illness a lower priority than HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases that cause death. Also, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS kills off large numbers of middle-aged people, the ones who normally would be caring for the aged, Ndetei said.

Kenyan families do their best to take care of the elderly, but they need to be educated. A common misconception in Kenya, for example, is that the way to treat elderly family members “well” is to give them the “fattest sheep.” Fatty foods, however, create too much cholesterol, Ndetei said.

The most common mental illness in the elderly is depression, not dementia, he said.

First, elderly people lose their abilities, there’s no Social Security, and they become socially isolated because young people go to urban areas where jobs are. Often, elderly people want to stay in their home villages, where they can keep a few chickens and goats. An urban environment seems stressful to them, Ndetei said.

“They don’t have support,” he added.

After Ndetei received his doctor’s degree in psychiatry in Great Britain, he stayed there and worked for awhile. In the UK, treatment of mentally ill patients was less personal, more like “business as usual,” compared to the model of care at Lakeview Ranch, he said.

Ndetei met Berry while she was traveling in Kenya, and when she had asked to be introduced to someone in the field of dementia. He is a professor for Nairobi University Medical School, a prominent researcher, and speaks all over the world on issues of neurology, mental health, and ethics, Berry said.

Ndetei said he became interested in medicine when he was young and saw the suffering in his home village. Also, his father was very kind, and his example made Ndetei want to help people, he said.

When Ndetei was in high school, he was put in charge of the school’s dispensary. When Ndetei looks back on that, he laughs that being only a high school student, he could have “poisoned” his classmates.

While he was at the university studying medicine, his class on psychiatry seemed particularly interesting. Ndetei’s professor advised him to go into the psychiatric profession. After working for a few years in Great Britain, he wanted to return to Kenya, and help his countrymen, Ndetei said.

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