CHARLES GRAHAM - The forgotten ones

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YOU don’t need me to tell you that dementia is one of the most distressing of all illnesses.

So widespread is it that there are few of us who don’t know someone who has suffered.

It robs victims of their lives just as devastatingly as the more physical of terminal conditions, but if anything the hardship and upset to loved ones can be even greater.

Several of my relatives succumbed to it and, in her last few years, my lovely grandma hadn’t the faintest idea who any of us were.

A clear recollection is of my tearful mum coming home after visiting grandma shortly before the family decision was taken that she was no longer capable of looking after herself and needed to go into a nursing home.

Mum arrived at 8pm to find her laying the table for two and when asked if she was having a visitor, she tartly replied: “No, only my husband.”

It wasn’t so much that my grandpa had been dead for 13 years by then that upset mum. It was the fact that grandma had also forgotten she had children and didn’t know she was talking to her own daughter.

All the figures today show that dementia is on the rise as the population gets older. So many tribulations lie ahead.

And the Alzheimer’s Society has been on the warpath this week to say how disgraceful it is that early diagnosis rates vary so markedly across different parts of the country.

In fact it is estimated that less than half of the people in Wigan borough who have dementia have actually been diagnosed with it.

That’s around 1,800 people.

The earlier this pernicious illness is properly identified, the more that can be done medically to help people live as well as possible with the condition.

There is clearly an onus on relatives who have their suspicions to take the initiative rather than deny the truth, and also one on those who think they themselves might be developing the early symptoms but are afraid of going to the doctor for fear of acknowledging the illness or fearing some kind of stigma.

But GPs and other medical practitioners should also play a role in symptom-spotting.

No-one has got a miracle cure yet, I’m afraid.

But if other parts of the country can achieve early diagnosis among at least two-thirds of patients then plainly more should be done in the borough to ease the patients and their carers’ suffering.