Ageing and dementia

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My happiest childhood years were spent in a council house on a large estate on the western fringes of Cardiff. I attended the local church and was an enthusiastic member of their cub group. Now in later life, when I visit the city for the rugby internationals, I make a point of attending the early morning communion service: it is a heartening experience as the church is prospering under an exceptionally able vicar and offers an outstanding ministry to a disadvantaged local community.

The sick are remembered in prayers during the service and last time I went I recognised one of the names: it was a classmate of mine at the local primary school. He was a lively boy and a talented footballer – centre forward for the school team. He is now 70 and I was shocked when the vicar told me that my former classmate was struggling with dementia.

As a baby-boomer enjoying a comfortable retirement dementia is one of my biggest fears. I have no skills or talents beyond the cognitive and I dread the loss of this capability; I have been giving the matter a deal of thought – possibly, because of my anxiety, too much thought. There seems to be an endless flow of newspaper articles summarising, and almost certainly over-simplifying, the latest research. Unfortunately most often they are no help at all.

What has proved of value was an informal discussion I had with a local GP; he isn’t my doctor but is a personal friend. In summary his views were that we must all come to terms with a decline in our powers as we grow older; this decline embraces both cognitive and physical skills. The challenge is how we cope with that decline. The sound advice he gave me has been repeated a thousand times: keep yourself healthy by taking exercise, have a good diet, avoid excessive alcohol consumption and don’t smoke. In addition develop new mental skills by taking on new challenges.   As he put it to me: ‘when dealing with patients I often think, (but cannot say), what part of this don’t you understand?’.

I can’t help but feel that my generation has developed an unfortunate mind-set. We seem to believe that we have a right to expect GPs and hospitals to offer cures for everything – irrespective of our own behaviour. You don’t have to be a Thatcherite to recognise that individual obligations must run alongside social provision.

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3 thoughts on “Ageing and dementia

  1. Hello Martyn. Sound advice from your GP. I’d add that all the good practices in the world cannot guarantee our future, so make the most of every day. I have written on my blog about dementia from the perspective of someone of retirement age with a parent still alive and suffering from this disease. In my case, it was my mother. My father retained his mental faculties but became increasingly frail physically. Each provided its own emotional challenges. Both of my parents have died in the last four months, so I am now embarking on the next phase of my retired life – the newly-orphaned pensioner.

    Liked by 1 person

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