Who is to Blame? Understanding the blame game and its effects in Dementia care among African immigrants & refugees


By Tolulope Monisola OLA (PhD) & Richard B. Oni (PhD)

Who is to blame for my mother’s or father’s dementia? Whose fault is it? Why the blame game? What are the implications/consequences of the blame game in dementia care among the African immigrants and refugees? Epicetus a Greek Stoic philosopher once said: “An ignorant person is inclined to blame others for his or her own misfortune. To blame oneself is proof of progress. But the wise man never has to blame another or himself.”

The blame game is an overriding culture amongst Africans, especially in cases of diagnosis with dementia commonly tagged “the white man’s disease” or attributed to lunacy, witchcraft, or other myths of possessions. Playing the blame game is about censuring, holding responsible, making negative statements about an individual that his/her action(s) or inaction(s) are socially, morally and spiritually unacceptable.  By persisting in this blame one cannot proactively take steps to improve the situation. This is particularly harmful when it comes to dealing with someone who is experiencing memory loss and may have dementia.

This affects the person’s help-seeking behavior. It is of utmost importance that individuals experiencing memory problems be encouraged to seek early evaluation and diagnosis of dementia because it leads to a better diagnosis accuracy and longer stability of cognition and function.   Early intervention also alerts the individual and their caregiver/family to the available resources, and helps decrease their stress.

Moving from the blame game culture to an absolved culture requires a comprehensive understanding of dementia. It allows for the African immigrant and refugee communities to develop more aware of their own internal resources and effectively improve their help-seeking behaviors regarding memory loss.

The Minnesota Board on Aging’s “Cultural Awareness in Dementia Care” initiative is designed to promote principles of health equity and enhance person-centered dementia care for diverse ethnic and cultural communities who have the highest health disparities. This initiative strives to create cultural awareness among service providers that will result in culturally responsive service to persons with dementia and their caregivers.  Through these efforts the African community members will have more and enhanced resources to meet their dementia health needs.

Drs. Oni & Ola are both trained as Cultural Consultants in Dementia Care, an initiative supported by the Minnesota Board on Aging (MBA).  They are trained to educate, equip and provide information on cultural awareness of dementia in the African immigrant and refugee communities. Specifically, Dr. Ola will be sharing her experience as a caregiver to her mom who died of dementia.  Dr. Ola will discuss the communities’ beliefs that normalize the symptoms to aging or attributes it to spiritual imbalance in contrast to scientific information known about dementia.

As Cultural Consultants, Drs. Oni & Ola have extensive cultural knowledge of the Anglo and Francophone West African and refugee communities. They have been trained by The Minnesota Board on Aging to change the way old age and dementia is perceived in the African communities, which invariably improves help-seeking for dementia.

Additional Resources: Nancy E. Lee, State Program Administrator, Principal Minnesota Board on Aging.


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