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Isio Knows Better: 39,000 Feet & the One With Dementia



Isio-Knows-Better-May-2014-Bellanaija1-562x600I sincerely lay no claims to being more knowledgeable than anyone, but I do confess that I know better than I did yesterday, last year and a decade ago.

Isio Knows Better is an attempt to capture the shocking and highly entertaining conversation within myself. The conversations between my mind (the sharp witty one), my soul (the lover and the spiritual one) and my body (the playful one concerned with the more mundane things of life). She is the eternal referee between the caustic mind and the sensitive soul. This is Isio. So, here’s to making private conversations public.


My eyes were burning with tears I refused to shed. I lay my head on my travel pillow and squeezed my eyes shut, willing the hurt I felt for another human being to magically heal him. But my ears couldn’t unhear what it had heard. Other passengers, irritated by the elderly man who was having a dramatic episode that is peculiar to people suffering from the more advanced stages of dementia had said things like…

“Someone should please shut him up.”

“Bring the handcuffs!” One air-hostess cried to another who hurried off to do her bidding.

“What is wrong with him?! Nigerians sef!”

“Someone should kick him hard he will be quiet!” Another offered scathingly, his greatest bother being that the old man’s cries of confusion and pain bothered his precious movie time. He had said this as he angrily adjusted his headphones.

I felt sad. Really sad.

Others had suggested they gave him a shot of a consortium of tranquilizers;  some others suggested that they slap the delirium out of his skull;  one ignorantly explaining to others who didn’t know what dementia was that adult dementia was similar to autism in kids. Another was wondering why he was having an episode, after all, she knew someone who had dementia but didn’t make a ruckus- but only ate and slept peacefully.

In all this time, the elderly man had been restrained and held to the floor, and half a dozen men had gathered around the galleys for a better view and a few more people stood on the isles. Just looking and gossiping about the man. I could see a bit of his feet from my seat on the plane.

Whoa! Mankind. So much for our empathy.

This man was someone’s father. Someone once called him beloved. He was once someone’s son. When he was born, someone held him in their hands and wept for joy. Someone once gave him a glorious name and blessed his future on his name-day. He was special to someone. Or at least, he once was.

And yet he lay there, in anguish and in pain. It wasn’t his fault that his memory had failed him, that his nervous system and motor skills were shutting down while he still lived. His brain was processing data that his mind simply couldn’t comprehend, and he, who was once a man- strong and proud, now lay on the floor of an airplane, thrashing around, whimpering like a scared child, struggling to be free, crying for a semblance of things, people, sounds that he once recognized. He longed for a safe place. And he wept bitterly. He wailed. I could hear his distress. I could feel his confusion. It broke my heart. My eyes burned with tears I refused to shed. So I squeezed them shut.

One of the air-hostesses had announced over the P.A that any doctors amongst us (the passengers) should please come forward. We had been advised to remain seated and to fasten our seat-belts while seated. I wanted to go to him but I couldn’t. I wanted badly to comfort him like he was my own. To tell him that I understood what he was going through and that it would be okay. To hold his hand through the hysteria and the spasms. I wanted him to tell me about the people he knew and what he loved, knowing that his recollection of a safe place – however far back his memory had receded- would bring him more comfort than the recommended cold-steel I could imagine were now binding his wrists.

I am sorry, but it just hit a bit too close to home.

So much ignorance about certain illnesses. Some of us Africans believe that dementia caused by Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, and other ‘exotic’ diseases like autism, epilepsy, dyslexia, cerebral palsy, bipolar disorders, Attention Deficit Disorder, schizophrenia, agoraphobia, amnesia and even cancer  are simply white man’s diseases- that it doesn’t concern us.

We are blakkies, we no dey get dos kain tins. Afterall, the so-called amnesia na only for oyinbo films we dey see am na, abi? Na dat sickness dey make all those Telemundo soap operas sweet well-well.

Well, you would say that, until one of them (let’s say Dementia) hits someone you know and love dearly. And you watch them waste away before your very eyes- slowly, painfully and surely. Or worse, if it hits YOU. I am sure you wouldn’t enjoy imagining hearing someone recommend you hot kicks and heavy slaps while you are gripped in the horrible but powerful delirium that has possessed you, one that is no respecter of persons or places or etiquettes but lowers you to your knees (indeed your belly) thrashing uncontrollably and begging for something you can’t seem to remember..

If only you could shake it off- but you can’t.

If only you could take back some of your power- this was your body, God’s temple – but this disease won’t let you.

It came like a thief in the night, it did.

But unlike a decent thief, it didn’t just seal from you and leave you in peace, it takes from you and leaves something behind. A gift of certain slow death by a disease science has no cure for. Every day you lived, you would lose an irreplaceable piece of yourself…

Your memories.

Your strength.

Your ability to move on your own…

Soon you would not be able to lift a spoon to your mouth.

Fainter and fainter your voice would get until you would not be able to speak. Nor feed yourself. Nor laugh.

That is what it does. It makes you helpless.

An hour later the man was finally calm. We were still 39,000 feet in the air and 8 hours away from our destination. Somehow I had un-squeezed my eyes and through the old man’s pain had written this article even though it evokes raw and painful memories for me.

I may not have been able to heal him, but I will share their stories. Pain is pain, it is ugly and no one should have suffer so badly.

 I will remind people who are in good health to be grateful. It is not by your power that you are standing on your own two feet. Nor is it by your magnificence that you are not wasting away in some hospital bed. That is a luxury some people would give up all of their earthly possessions for. Organs fail, diseases rage, people die. But you are here. So show some empathy for those who are not so fortunate.

It could have been you.

Isio De-laVega Wanogho is a Nigerian supermodel, a multi-award winning media personality and an interior architect who is a creative-expressionist at her core. She uses words, wit and her paintings to tell stories that entertain, yet convey a deeper meaning. Follow her on Instagram @isiodelavega and visit her website: to see her professional body of work.


  1. le coco

    July 8, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    this was luvly.. nd soo true.. africans can be quite ignorant about certain important issues.. its either an oyinbo mans disease.. or something from the village.. nyc one isio

  2. slice

    July 8, 2014 at 1:26 pm

    nigerians and beating. a kid is still bedwetting, let’s beat him. a big man is suddenly wailing on the floor, let’s beat him. a kid won’t eat dinner, let’s beat him. in these days of google, you would think people would take the time to find other ways around their problems. for example, no water after a certain time and get your lazy butt up in the middle of the night to wake the kid up to go to the bathroom. kai. just had to get that one off my chest.

    • jcsgrl

      July 8, 2014 at 1:39 pm

      My dear its just ignorance and over spiritualizing everything. Our parents just didn’t know any better. Hopefully our generation will change things because we refuse to accept the status quo. We questions things that don’t make sense. But I hope we don’t lose our humanity because the world is getting increasingly selfish. And we dont emulate the good things about oyinbo culture. Na the bad ones that we carry on top of our head…smh

    • Thatgidigirl

      July 8, 2014 at 3:47 pm

      @ slice, my dear its not just beating….pastor! someone has a genetic disorder, he’s possessed, his step mom or grandmum is a witch let’s call pastor. If we’re not beating, we’re at the prayer house for something that requires just a little research and subsequent understanding. i’m surprised no one on the flight started pleading the blood of Jesus.

  3. nikky

    July 8, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    I work in the health care field and I’ve seen the horror of this disease first hand. As a Nigerian it breaks my heart to continue hearing about the ignorance that persist when it comes to these diseases. It is so effing frustrating especially when it’s close to home, my cousin has autism but guess what someone is bewitching him. Yes that is what my auntie ( his own mother) thinks so you can imagine the type of help he gets from the various prayer people that continue to take money from her.
    Thank you very much for this heartbreaking but necessary write up on the evils of ignorance.

  4. chy

    July 8, 2014 at 1:43 pm

    Just might have been my dad
    He has parkinson’s and it breaks my heart

  5. baby

    July 8, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    nice write up,very true,but pls who knows the name of her weave,i’m in love.

  6. tunmi

    July 8, 2014 at 2:11 pm

    We need mental health awareness

    • Ivie

      July 8, 2014 at 3:34 pm

      I concur!!! Its soo overdue, Nice one Isio… Am a stan!

  7. FlyHijabi

    July 8, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    That’s how a doctor gave my grandpa a drug that nearly killed him. We all blamed mummy who believed the quack that told her the dementia can be cured completely with drugs. I spent my nights at his bedside for a week and it was bad. He kept trying to pull out the IV,trying to get up when it was obvious he will fall down,trying to pull out the catether saying he needed to pee. I had to become stronger to hold him down because even the soft bandages we used to tie him to the bed were not enough. Now he’s back to his old self; not talking,just eating and sleeping, holding my hand when I go see him and nodding at the things I say even when I know he won’t respond. This is life and when we pray for all the wealth and goodness, we should remember to pray for health and pray against senility because at that time,we won’t even remember how to pray.

  8. Nuna

    July 8, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    Thanks Isio for this piece.

  9. ebony87

    July 8, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    This is a very touching piece Isio. Thank you for bringing it to light. We tend to be so indifferent when we see others in pain. I just hope this world gets better because what i see around is selfishness at the extreme.

  10. toyin olaleye

    July 8, 2014 at 3:10 pm

    it’s always disgusting to see anyone treating another as less than human…I hope people can just realize what goes around comes around

  11. Cee

    July 8, 2014 at 3:11 pm

    Good health is underrated….Give thanks to God always if you can go a full year without been hospitalized.

  12. Cherie

    July 8, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    Oh. My. God.

    This is the most powerful “scolding” I’ve ever had. Words so true I can only agree with every single one of them.

    Thanks for the reminder Isio, after all we’re all just mere mortals.

  13. Olubukolaabla

    July 8, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    Thank you Isio for bringing awareness to this monster that subtly disintegrates and degenerates human lives..I have seen first hand what this thing does to an individual and how it affects the entire family unit of the individual.. From a personal opinion,if people would stop attaching too much religiousity to dementia then perhaps depression could be arrested before one crosses over to dementia though i’m not ruling out the fact that there may be some spiritual involvement. I say this because based on my judgement and experiences i have had when a loved one fell into depression and almost crossed over to insanity, it wasnt a spiritual matter at all, it was an accumilation of major life changing situations that had gradually begun to affect the mind of the individual but for timely and proper psychiatric interventions plus a great support system from friends and family members,this person now lives life like nothing ever happened bearing in mind that this person was one of the few fortunate ones that survived it and is managing the illness perfectly. Another factor is that we all should stop living in Denial and accept the truth when this thing rares its ugly and morbid head( it is ugly when you see someone going through an episode,sometimes its leaves you so drained emotionally,physically, mentally and financially as a care giver but you must and you can rise above it). What i know also is that it can be managed if rapidly responded to once an individual has been diagnosed and shows signs in the early stages as this can be quickly nipped in the bud..

    • Ivie

      July 8, 2014 at 3:39 pm

      hmmmm … i can so relate to this…well said.

    • DocDeola

      July 8, 2014 at 5:41 pm

      I think you are confusing dementia with pseudo-dementia that people with severe depression suffer. Depression can cause general slowing of the wits – so as to speak.
      Dementia on the other hand is degenerative, like arthritis, it is the aching of the brain, all the waste products stored up where our memories used to be, clogging up the electric wires that fire up our persona.
      It can be genetic, which usually starts earlier and earlier in each generation but mostly just bad luck….science is still searching for answers.
      Please Nigerians, let us engage in research, if you have relatives in the disease, there is ongoing research at University College Hospital Ibadan, they can enrol in.
      It’s so frustrating when the West talks about cures, but doesn’t work as well for Africans as the research cohort is from the West…

  14. onyx

    July 8, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    Nice one Isio. We need real mental health educatin in Nigeria. I’ve been a victim. Suffered from depression a few years back. Almost cancelled my wedding, had to stop work, wasn’t eating. It was hell. Worse than hell. I thought my life had stopped and all the while i was told to ‘man up’ and be a man and just shake it off, but thank God for the support and love of loved ones and my fiancee now my wife, i pulled through and couldn’t be more happier with life and also now i have a beautiful daughter i adore more than life itself. Sometimes, just the support in itself could be the difference and of course the power of prayer

    • anonymous

      July 8, 2014 at 4:34 pm

      wow this such an eye opener.. i tot women were d primary sufferers of depressions. must have been hell on ur wife. i thank God for both of u and the grace he gave u to heal

  15. hi

    July 8, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    Isio. I want to send this article to a lot of people, male and female.

    But your photo might make the males sin.

    What do I do?

  16. hi

    July 8, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    According to the bible, If people sin, illness can come that way.

    Illness comes through more than one way.

    So should I tempt these males?

  17. damsel

    July 8, 2014 at 4:38 pm

    I like you a lot,thanks for this piece.

  18. Bobosteke & Lara Bian

    July 8, 2014 at 5:16 pm

    I travelled some years ago with my uncle and I saw him try to sip some soup with a spoon. His hand shook so badly I wanted to go over and help him. But I knew I was not to acknowledge the body failings of this renowned Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology in any way. I did not know how much it wounded me until I was telling my boyfriend later that day and I burst into tears and started bawling like child.

    Its hard to accept that our love for this people is not enough to bridge that crack between mind and body. I think sometimes that’s the most difficult thing to do. Standing by and watching the cracks widen to yawning black holes that, soon nothing would be able to breach, watching every significant thing about that person erode away.

    Peace Isio, Peace.

  19. PennStudent

    July 8, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    Empathy is something we Nigerians have learnt not to possess. This is a wonderful piece….

  20. Loulou

    July 8, 2014 at 6:30 pm

    Thank you Isio, lost my mum to cancer and it still hurts… I pray for Grace for us to be more fully human, and much more sympathetic to other’s feelings.

  21. Dr. N

    July 8, 2014 at 6:33 pm

    When they carry another person’s corpse, it looks like a log of wood

  22. newbie

    July 8, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    If there’s anything like a virtual standing ovation, I give you it for this piece. You told it like it should be told and for that, thank you, young lady.

  23. Oma

    July 8, 2014 at 7:43 pm

    Thanks Isio for this piece, May God BLESS You for this and many people need to start acknowledging that a good health and a sound mind should never ever be taken for granted…..

  24. Magz

    July 8, 2014 at 7:50 pm

    Thanks for this piece. God bless you. I was pained to my bones when I saw my dad (who used to be very sharp) delirious & incoherent on his sick bed, I would not wish that pain on even my worst enemy. Like you said Isio, Nigerians need to be more empathic. We ended up losing him but anytime I remember those moments he couldn’t recognize us, I shed bitter tears. May his soul RIP. Once again, God bless you for this Isio.

  25. babygiwa

    July 8, 2014 at 8:13 pm

    It is such a sad shame that we Nigerians are not as kind to fellow humans as we ought to. Always judging, belittling and saying hurtful things to people. Would it have killed the passengers to be kind to the old man. Its high time we all become less Igbo, less Hausa, less Yoruba and Muslim and christian and become MORE human!

  26. laila

    July 8, 2014 at 8:40 pm

    Isio for President

  27. Cindy

    July 8, 2014 at 8:54 pm

    Pls check out my blog. I’ve got a story (change from an eight year old) also on dementia at

  28. D

    July 8, 2014 at 8:57 pm

    First I have to ask where is the man’s family??? Someone with any form of dementia or alzheimers should not be travelling by himself!!! and whoever is travelling with him should have meds to calm him down if need be. I worked at a Nursing home for people suffering from dementia and alzheimers and yes someone of them can become violent and hurt others during the process. I know many will consider it madness in Nigeria and it can be disheartening. Sometimes all you can do is give them some kind of medication to calm them down but for someone travelling by himself without medication or anything. I’m afraid but unfortunately restraining him might be the only option especially if he is the violent sort.


    July 9, 2014 at 3:02 pm

    Thank you for this piece Isio, It’s an eye opener for me. Like most Nigerians I would have ignorantly thought his situation had something to do with witchcraft.

  30. isaid!

    July 11, 2014 at 2:54 pm

    Thanks Isio for this piece. This hit very close to home. few years ago, my younger sister suffered from depression.My family made the mistake we Nigerians always made : toOk her to different pastors who claimed all sorts of attacks. It was actually when she actually became”mad” that we took her to yaba psychiatric hospital where a doctor diagnosed her as suffering from depression. Over time we found out in the course of her treatment that she had been raped by a close family member. years ago. To cut a long story short, she is now on drugs and counseling and lives a very happy life working again. We all(my family)are her support system. I have never seen my sister so happy like she is now. All those years she battled the shame alone which ultimately led her to depression.Pleas all those concerned,mental illness is real. Watch family members closely and seek professional help in addition to spiritual.(praying) I hope this piece helps people who have such relatives do the right thing and not make the mistake my family made. My sister’ life would have wasted if we depended only on what pastors said…. sorry for the long piece.

  31. anonymous

    July 11, 2014 at 5:22 pm

    i wish we could have an unbiased mind towards mental health. Been there and done that. i was sexually abused as a child, even tho the perpetrator didn’t penetrate, still made me feel shame and hatred towards the opposite sex. i had my first bout of depression at 16, and had to stop writing my finals, was taken home and chained down by pastors who felt i was possessed. given all manners of fasting.. i overcame it and gained admission to uni… had another episode later and this time it was triggered by stress.. called my folks to pick me up from school, instead of them to take me to the hosp, i was taken to a pastor again who chained me the 2nd time, with all manners of prayers, it was until i stripped myself nude and removed the chains about to take off to the streets then my parents realized maybe it wasn’t spiritual anymore, got admitted into yaba neuro psychiatric hosp and was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, placed on meds.. i noticed the meds made me sluggish and i added weight seriously so i stopped. one thing i’ve come to realize over time is, i know the triggers and once i see them, i stop whatever i do and take walks appreciate the beauty of nature or just do things i love. and it seems to work. mind you my parents still feels its must have been the devil, or i’m possessed by a spirit They are both literate by the way. Now i’m older and wiser and i read a lot so i know better.

    sorry for the epistle…..xoxo

    • Derry

      July 21, 2014 at 5:22 pm

      Stay strong sweetie, never ignore the signs.
      I am glad that you know yourself that well. You need a support system though, because its those who love you who notice the signs early sometimes.
      Speaking from experiece., My alarm bell rings from just having a conversation with my mum.

      Your doctors have also not found the medication and dosage that works or you, that is why you feel soo slugish, give the doctors a second chance. Try UCH Ibadan. I| beleive they know what they are doing.

      Reach out to me if you feel the need to. We can take this offline

  32. AW

    July 12, 2014 at 10:17 am

    Are we as people so caught up in our every day lives that we lack empathy for others suffering? We are always quick to say “it is well” but never wish our neighbours well. Like Isio said, that is somebody’s father, husband, son! It brought tears to my eyes thinking that, that could have been my dad! And my reaction was, if anybody tries it, “I go kill person”!

  33. [email protected]

    July 13, 2014 at 6:48 pm

    sending you a dozen virtual hugs …no child should be chained by pastors who have no idea what the child is dealing with

  34. FranklyChris

    July 16, 2014 at 9:56 pm

    Thought-provoking piece and educative comments as well. I think some Nigerians express empathy, just momentarily and go back to leading their lives. Sometimes, there isn’t much one can do, but like Isio rightly said, ‘feeling’ for such persons and tending to their ‘actual’ needs can go a long way. I propose a BN column for health and wellness, if there isn’t one already. This would help with knowledge of such negligible, yet existent diseases.

  35. ozed

    July 24, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    This piece brought tears to my eyes. It really could have been anybody. As we age we all become predisposed to senile degenerative diseases which by the way, have no cure. But since a lot of people are ignorant of this, they really can’t do better; cos they don’t know better. May God help us age well.

  36. Okaro

    October 8, 2014 at 12:03 am

    ‘Oghene’ I’m just reading this now.
    If i had not read this piece,I’d think such degenerative disease were caused by spiritual forces.
    ‘Oghene si wo mai kpobi’……God save us all.

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