Helen Martin: dementia time bomb must be defused

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AS the dementia time-bomb fuse burns down, the government and the NHS continue to tweak and potter around the edges rather than facing up to the problem that without radical solutions we face disaster.

After giving financial “bonuses” to GPs to improve the rates of diagnosis in England, cases have risen 62 per cent in seven years. There’s no reason to believe the incidence is any lower per capita in Scotland or that it will do anything but speed up as we live longer. But in most cases, diagnosis just gives us statistics rather than improving the outcome.

A new report from the US confirms that loneliness isn’t a symptom, but in all probability a contributing cause of dementia. Yet still the emphasis is on keeping old people who need care “living independently in their own home” where, in many cases, they will certainly be lonely apart from fleeting visits from care workers.

At the same time, another piece of research reveals that one third of Britons would refuse to take in elderly parents who needed full-time care. That shouldn’t surprise anyone.

How many can afford to give up work to become a full-time carer, especially those with dependant children? How many have enough room in their homes? And crucially, how many have the expertise and patience needed to care properly for a demented parent?

There is governmental and institutional blindness towards the only solution that makes any sense. As a nation, or nations depending on September 18, we should be pouring money into creating hundreds of highstandard care and nursing establishments where residents will never be lonely and will be cared for by experts in a place that becomes a comfortable home.

We should be developing new training and qualifications for top-class dementia care workers who currently need no qualifications at all and are paid peanuts. We should be raising the financial and professional status of them and dementia-specialist nurses who are currently Cinderellas in the medical field. It is after all, an industry that will employ millions, on which we will all come to depend and to which there is no reasonable alternative.

Having done all that, we could remove the fear and guilt involved in an elderly person going to live somewhere designed for their needs, providing the family visits regularly and continues to show love and care.

If there are shortfalls in some of the residential services we have now, that’s because they are as varied as the private businesses who run them and are almost seen by the government as a necessary but temporary “evil”, until the day when – so goes the dream – a cure will be developed and our elderly will remain sharp as a tack and physically independent, ultimately dying suddenly in their sleep. We are sticking our heads in the sand and sleep-walking into a nightmare. If we want such places to exist, we should have started long before now.

Funding is a matter of priorities. Foreign aid and nuclear deterrent cuts? A 70p in the pound millionaires’ tax? It doesn’t really matter where the money comes from because the only genuine options in sight as numbers soar are budget bedlams for the elderly or euthanasia.

Empty seats such a waste

IT happened at the London Olympics and again at the Commonwealth Games – unfortunately on Edinburgh’s first day.

At the opening diving session in the Commonwealth Pool, 20 per cent of the seats were empty despite it being “a sell-out”.

It looked bad, especially when the Commie Pool can only accommodate 500, was disappointing for the competitors, and infuriating for those who were told there were no tickets left. Why wasn’t there a mechanism for giving those seats to others?

Sponsorship might be one of the revenue streams that make big events possible but if it ruins the atmosphere and causes anger and disappointment, what’s the point?

Nothing wrong with sharing a room

A POST Office survey reveals one in six Scots children have to share a bedroom and their parents feel they are “letting them down” because house sizes have shrunk and families can’t afford to trade up. Oh boo hoo.

Sharing a bedroom with a sibling of the same sex is hardly cruelty to children. A few decades ago no child expected to have their own bedroom.

Sophisticated marketing has convinced families that an annual holiday abroad is also a necessity, along with a mobile phone contract for every child, X-boxes, a full TV package with on-tap movies and sport and a TV in every bedroom, a decent car, designer clothes and meals out when the mood takes. In today’s climate, unless you’re a millionaire, it’s all that or a bigger house.

God knows there are plenty of people who can’t afford any of these things, and plenty of couples who are both working to just keep afloat and pay astronomical childcare costs. There’s something seriously amiss if a child sharing a bedroom is deemed a hardship.