‘The next pandemic’?

A friend said to me the other day ‘I don’t want to go on living’. There was no self-pity about it, he was referring to a matter of fact. Handicapped after a stroke, his wife no longer with him, the actual business of living more and more complicated, his memory even when it works playing trick on him, I saw it in his face as well as heard him say it in words. He articulated what I seem to have been told by several people recently, all of them in their late eighties or nineties. There doesn’t seem any purpose in living anymore. But at least he knows how he feels, sad, frustrating though it may be. People who might think the same but suffer from dementia may not know it.

As you live longer it’s not just the length of life that is remarkable, but its quality that matters. What to do about that is a problem we don’t easily talk about and its one justification for these blogs; addressing the reality of ageing. But for some of us the worst thing about getting old is this fear of ultimate mental confusion that haunts us.

There was a G4 summit on dementia in London this week, given some publicity by government ministers, though I haven’t seen any report of any conclusions it may have come to. There was a lot of hectic rhetoric beforehand using the language of war with talk about an explosion, fight-back and time bombs.

For a long time this has been a hidden problem says Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He has spent forty years investigating the world’s deadliest diseases and in an interview in The Guardian, claimed that dementia is the next pandemic. The world’s biggest powers must tackle it together, he argued. According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, in the future one in three of us will develop the condition, which could mean 135 million people by 2050, though that surely must only be a guess-estimate.

Extravagant claims are being made, such as a cure might be found for dementia by 2015. Richard Ashcroft, a professor of bioethics says its good to have goals but there is no evidence that this one is achievable. Whilst there is massive need for research across national boundaries, one good thing is already happening. Local initiatives in the U.K. are paving the way to make towns and cities more dementia – friendly to people with the disease, making it less of a hidden subject, and those who suffer from it, less alone and misunderstood.