Helen Martin: Is dementia ever a saving grace?

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THE promise of new wonder pill LMTX that could prevent or halt dementia and might be available within three or four years, sounds like something we should all welcome.

I’m not so sure, even though my 94-year-old mum is in the grip of the advanced condition.

Dementia is being labelled as a horrible, ravaging disease, something that most people would consider their worst nightmare.

For those who suffer early onset, say in their 50s, it is all of that and more, cruelly robbing people who would still be in the prime of life, and their families.

But the majority of people who have dementia are elderly. Crudely put, you have to live long enough to get it. In some cases at least, like my mother’s, it is “caused” by improved nutrition and medical advances that have helped conquer other illnesses and conditions that might otherwise have got them earlier.

I have watched her over the past eight or nine years deteriorate bit by bit, losing her faculties, her wit, her memory, her understanding of what’s going on around her. Latterly, she has been oblivious to that descent. She thinks she is talking, but the babble no longer makes any sense apart from the odd phrase or word that emerges to everyone’s surprise, including hers, I suspect.

I have seen her revert, not to babyhood, but to the totally self-focused state that is required by the very young and the very old in order to have their needs, moods and wishes met. She is well looked-after and liked by the staff where she lives, even though she will sometimes greet kindness or cheerfulness with bad temper and an irrational rudeness.

Is that all dementia, or is some of it down to physical frailty and failure, like her total immobility and her need to be lifted, or moved by mechanical aids, her double incontinence, her failing vision and hearing, and her paper thin skin that has to be padded and anointed to protect it from tearing?

How do you tell when someone is in their mid-90s how much is down to ageing and sheer wear and tear, and how much to dementia?

What I do know is that without the part that is more obviously dementia, she would be aware of soiling herself, having to wear pads and be intimately cleaned up. She would be aware of her temper and rudeness and feel guilt and shame. She would be horrified that she could no longer apply her lipstick, be polite, use a knife and fork or recognise her own family.

And I know that even with the dementia, there are times when she laughs, enjoys herself, and, with help, packs away a three-course lunch washed down by two cups of milk, tea and extra sandwiches. Would she want a clear mind and a full grasp of reality? I really don’t know.


Could take a sealed plastic tub of tomato and Mascarpone pasta sauce from the fridge, take it to work, and come home complaining: “That soup I had at lunchtime was too rich. It’s put me right off tomatoes.”

It’s not such a rubbish idea

CHIEF Superintendent David O’Connor, president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, isn’t the first to suggest Scotland, with its five to six million population, doesn’t need 32 separate local authorities and 14 health boards, and he certainly won’t be the last. Not only are we a small country, but we have community councils, councils, MSPs, MPs and MEPs. Our governance is top heavy and expensive.

But can’t we at least start to streamline by passing policy-making for some functions to Holyrood? Take home recycling. Every council is different. If the same system and contracts were used for all of Scotland there would be savings on everything from buying bins and negotiating contracts to printing literature, shared responsibility and a higher chance of hitting targets.

Wildlife ain’t what it used to be

WHEN I was young, it was normal in city suburbs to have birds nesting in garden hedges and hedgehogs visiting at dusk.

On sunny days a consistent background hum came from gently buzzing bees. Butterflies were abundant and streams and burns were full of shoals of tiny little fish and frog spawn.

If you turned a spadeful of earth on garden soil there would be worms – lots of them.

None of these exist in our garden today. That’s not the result of rose-coloured spectacles. It’s evidence of the reported decline in British wildlife over the last 50 years. Ask your granny.

Referendum’s big questions

DO I believe the SNP promise of an independent Paradise, or the scary predictions of the Unionists? I’ll ignore both. The irony is that until the vote is taken, and only if it is “yes”, will we be given the answers we need. Catch 22. But I would like to know how Westminster really feels. If we vote “yes”, will they be co-operative, or vindictive, cutting off their nose to spite their face? If we vote “no” will they feel more inclined to treasure our loyalty, or be smug? If they really do understand the Scottish psyche, they’ll know how to answer these.