My most prized possession: A story of care from Nairobi

Teacher Yasmin Jeevanjee tells her story as a care partner in Kenya.

I was born and grew up in Nairobi, Kenya. After finishing my secondary education, I went to study abroad. I travelled extensively and eventually settled in London, where I pursued a career in teaching, my expertise being in Early Year’s Education. My parents continued to live in Nairobi, and I would visit them frequently.

On a visit in 2012, I felt that something was not right with my father. He seemed more forgetful than usual and, when he did not recognise an old family friend, alarm bells went off in my mind. In 2013, he was seen by a neurologist and diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.

My first reaction was one of shock and horror. This couldn’t be happening to my dad. My dad was a highly successful lawyer. It was hard to accept. Indeed, some of my family members were in complete denial.

My mother, who was the matriarch of our family, looked after my dad and my disabled sister with love, dedication and compassion. In 2017, she passed away after a short illness.  My father, who up until this point was still self-sufficient, started to decline in his health and well-being. As a family, we took the difficult decision, that I would resign from my job in London to look after the household in Nairobi. So, I found myself in my mother’s shoes and back in the land of my birth.

I had no idea of the challenges that caring for someone living with dementia would bring. After realising that I could not look after him on my own, I trained up a team of carers who now help me. From observing my father’s ever-changing needs, I have put into place a programme of care that has allowed him to stay in his own home. With the kindness of people that I have met, the support of my family and my teaching skills, my dad has the best quality of life and care that we can offer him.

Despite not being able to recognise his own family or the home he has lived in for many years, my father can still read. He cannot read novels or articles like he did before, but basic sentences and words, both in English and his mother tongue Gujarati. He enjoys flicking through magazines and picture books. When he is seated in his armchair looking at the newspaper, I feel that my father has “come back”.

Most days however he does not know who we are.

“Why are you wearing that name badge?” I am often asked when visitors come by, “we know who you are!” My badge has now become my daily accessory. I often forget to remove it.

When we wear our name badges there is a glimmer of recognition in his eyes. He will blow a kiss or wave hello. He does not speak much anymore as he cannot recall words. “My dad doesn’t know who I am”, I respond. Often, people react with disbelief, sadness and pity. Most people say, “we pray he gets better” and when I tell them he will not, they look at me with shock.

My name badge gives my father the comfort and reassurance that he is not with strangers, but with his family and carers who love him and look after him. My name badge is now my most prized possession.

Yasmin Jeevanjee lives between London and Nairobi.

In Kenya, where Yasmin cares for her father and sister, there is little understanding or knowledge of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Our member, Alzheimer’s and Dementia Organisation Kenya, works hard to alleviate stigma and provide support for people living with dementia and their care partners. The care programme that Yasmin has put in place for her father means that he is well cared for. However, there is still a very long way to go. Stigma remains the single largest barrier facing the dementia community.

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