Friday, 12 April 2013

Thatcher's dementia

People who have a particular interest in dementia, e,g, carers, will have noticed how reticent the media have been in mentioning, never mind discussing, Margaret Thatcher's dementia.  Indeed, the fact that she had dementia was only really confirmed publicly when her daughter Carol wrote about it in a memoir published in 2008.

Even those newspapers and broadcast media that have mentioned the word have generally failed to explain it to a public, many of whom are not particularly well-informed about it.  Even those who have gone into a little detail have reported people's surprise that, even in the last months of her life, she was capable of lucid moments.

But this is not particularly uncommon, especially if people have vascular dementia which it would appear that Thatcher had: she had a series of mini-strokes which led to her withdrawing from public life.  However, in amongst all the various facts, some of them extremely trivial, which the mainstream media have been so keen to throw us, you won't find many mentions or descriptions of vascular dementia.

One could just about understand a reluctance to publicise her condition whilst she was still alive.  Unlike Terry Pratchett, who has seen it as a responsibility to 'spread the word', Thatcher and her supporters were generally silent about her condition.  But once she had died, there would seem no reason not to discuss it.

What is really needed is a massive public campaign to explain dementia, and what it actually means, to the general public.  Here was an excellent opportunity to inform: an opportunity spectacularly thrown away.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Generalisations about people with dementia

You find them all over the internet.  Even when people pay lip service to the idea that 'everyone is different', they frequently state, suggest or imply that 'they' do this, can't do that, feel this, must be treated like this, cannot understand that....

The absurd thing is that those who make these statements will themselves often only have experience of two or three people with dementia.  Either they are thoughtlessly extrapolating from this miniscule sample or, more likely, they're just repeating what they have read or been told by other equally misguided people.

I've mentioned before a couple of totally false assertions:

Statements like this also ignore that the fact that people are often diagnosed at very different stages of whatever type of dementia they have (and some people claim that there are over 200).  Many people in the early stages of the diseases will be able to do nearly all the things that people without dementia can do.  Indeed, they may be able to do some of them better than most people without dementia.  The writer Terry Pratchett is a well-known example.  Several years after diagnosis, he is still writing books.  Likewise, the singer Glen Campbell was able to produce a very polished album post-diagnosis.

For every celebrity, there will be thousands of other people who are still functioning 'normally' in some or many respects.  People are still working, driving, and living independently.

I would advise people who want to try to understand the world of dementia to ignore any statement that lumps people together in the way that I've illustrated.

I'm not of course, denying that many people with dementia can have some things in common, just like people without dementia can.  It's the absence of qualifiers  -  some, many, most  -  that gives the game away.

It's just sloppy thinking  -  on a par with talk of 'the poor' or 'the unemployed'  -  and often from people who should know better.