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The dementia time bomb

Soon 1 in 70 will suffer from dementia

By on Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Both Parents Alzheimer's

Here is some very sad news, which tells us what we already knew, most of us: dementia is on the increase. Read about it here.

I first heard the term “Alzheimer’s disease” when I was an undergraduate at university, which would have been some time about 1983. I remember having to ask what exactly it meant. Nowadays it is a familiar term, though we have dropped the “disease” part of the phrase. Not all people with dementia have Alzheimer’s of course, but within twenty years I was to become personally acquainted at several levels with dementia – as a priest visiting hospitals and nursing homes, as the friend of people whose parents were suffering from dementia, and most of all as the son of a demented parent.

Dementia is increasing because we are all living longer. That is the standard explanation. There have always been demented people around, however. The novels of Dickens contain a few examples of people suffering from dementia, not unsympathetic portrayals of dotty old people. But these were dotty old people who were in society, which is important to note. But even going back to medieval times there were hospitals and almshouses for those who were so enfeebled by old age that they had to be institutionalised. However, and this is important, this was only on a very small scale.

What we are facing now is the prospect of one in seventy of the population suffering from dementia by 2021, and this is clearly unsustainable – something has got to change in the way we look after those with dementia. It is of course possible that the trend of ever-lengthening life spans will go into reverse, but until it does we will need more nursing homes, and more care for the demented in their own homes.

A married couple I know, and who were both only children, had to care for not one but two elderly and demented mothers. It was very difficult, and quite a struggle, but they did so at home, even though, by the end of the lives of the old ladies, they themselves were already in their seventies. I do admire them for their self-sacrifice, which was all the more remarkable in that there were no siblings to help. In a large family, though, it would in theory be easier. The children and the grandchildren can take it in turns to sit with Granny. If they are sufficiently numerous, they may not have to do this so very frequently. And it seems to me that this will have to be the case: we will soon no longer be able to afford to farm out our care needs to strangers. The family will have to take up the slack. That of course will mean the family rising to the challenge, as my two friends so bravely did.

  • Pregis

    Encourage smoking and not taking exercise!

  • Kevin Lambert1

    we are not supposed to live that long.

  • Cestius

    We faced similar problems in the past, for a long time it looked like heart disease would be an unstoppable killer until we found out some of the causative factors behind it – since then the rate has dropped.  We still don’t know exactly what the cause (or causes) of dementia is, but there are some clues already.  I’m not so pessimistic as many people seem to be.

  • Cestius

    There is some evidence that lack of exercise may be one of the contributory factors to some types of dementia. The better your heart and circulatory system, the better the blood supply to your brain and the less chance of things going wrong with it.

  • Lewispbuckingham

    Rather than retiring to long beach strolls, playing golf and eating in fine restaurants it would seem better to keep working both physically and mentally as long as possible.
     One theory is that when we do this stem cells are recruited from the hypothalamus and assist in the regeneration of new brain cells and their connections.The old theory that we developed a certain number of brain cells and as we age we lost them does not seem to be the whole truth. 

  • Patrickhowes

    So Fr Alexis do you suppose the cannabis aids or worsens Dimentia?

  • Lewispbuckingham

     Those plants grown in Australia are lovingly nurtured under artificial sunlight and fed and sang to with hydroponic waters.Since the 60′s when all the journals told us that the plant was a mild source of harmless cannabis, the best and brightest plant selectors were brought into play so now the plant is highly toxic.
     With the advent of the MRI it was found that its toxicosis caused images indistinguishable from those found in schizophrenia.That is it causes brain damage a horrible outcome.
     It would be a bad idea to give it to anyone, let alone dementia sufferers.
      

  • Peter

    Good point.  I have a relative who is in his late eighties.  Right up to his early eighties he would cycle regularly, sometimes doing over 60 miles, while in his seventies he would cycle up to 100 miles.  Now he walks whenever he can and consequently he is in very good physical health for his age and looks after himself.
    However, despite his physical working out, he failed to do any mental exercises for decades, preferring simply to watch TV.  Consequently, he is suffering the onset of dementia although the onset could have occurred sooner if he had not worked out physically.

    Had he worked out mentally as intensely as he did physically, I’m convinced that he would not be suffering any symptoms of dementia, even though he is approaching 90 years of age.

  • daclamat

    Statistically there’s a fair percentge of bishops. Sad. But instead of the  personality cult surrounding them it might be a good idea to step back and appraise their behaviour, A cardinal or three displays worrying symptoms, but the system doesn’t seem to take this into account . A lieste one    seems to think he’s infallible, loves dressing up and  soaking up mass adulation. There’s no cure, but it’s best not to humour them.

  • Nesbyth

    Apparently, there is no case of a Jesuit getting Alzheimers/Dementia.
    This order is reknown for their members having to use their brains.

  • Parasum

    Christianity as a whole is old – one has to wonder how much longer it can survive. Maybe the divisions in it are a Churchly dementia, a sign of final decay. If it does survive, I can’t see how it can do so in Europe without changing a lot. The CC is too big for its own good; it’s not agile, but a tortoise, arthritic, slow, top-heavy, weighed down by precedent. Churches with a much more flexible structure, or next to none, like house-churches, may be in a far better position to survive. 

    The Church needs to be young again..