Living with Dementia

It was with sadness I heard the news of the death of Monty Python legend Terry Jones in January. I was struck with the dignity and respect his cause of death was given.

When the headlines made it known that dementia was the cause of death, I was expecting to see he had been ‘suffering with dementia’ but when the family made the announcement, we were told that Terry had been ‘living with dementia’.

I am aware that he had a rare form of dementia, but it was dementia that caused his decline from the man many Monty Python fans knew, admired and respected. I noted the other Pythons, clearly upset by the loss off their wonderful friend and colleague, added humour to their touching tributes to Terry, what a wonderful way to respect the man he was before he had to start living with dementia and not dwelling on the last period of his life.

I have to admit that Terry Jones and his antics with the other Pythons was a little before my time but working in this field makes me pay attention to certain news about those in the public eye diagnosed with dementia. During the time I have been working with those diagnosed with dementia I have seen significant change to how much the condition is talked about. Recently we have seen the condition portrayed as early on-set dementia in a well-loved character in Casualty and in the older person by the wonderful Glenda Jackson in Elizabeth is Missing which was heart breaking but not to be missed.

What is clear is that a diagnosis of dementia does not mean this is the end and mental capacity has been lost. Look at Prunella Scales who, with the support of her loving husband, has been entertaining many with their canal journeys up until this year despite her being diagnosed with dementia some 15 years ago. Celebrities such as Barbara Windsor making their condition known helps not only to raise awareness of the condition but also helps families understand they are not going through this alone. It can be a lonely and frightening time, but a diagnosis is the time for affairs to be put in order including powers of attorney and making your wishes known regarding the future possible care you may need. It is also time to make memories and seek advice for what the future will bring, not only for the diagnosed but also their families who will likely take on an additional roles as carers as time moves on. We all need support and guidance from time to time and help really is out there now.

This condition will touch most of us during our lifetimes but hopefully, with awareness and the help available improving, we will all be able to continue to live with dementia rather than suffer until that much desired cure or preventative cure is found.

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Animal therapy

When you’ve been used to sharing your home with someone, whether it be a spouse, aged parent, or even children, and it is suddenly silent and empty when you return, it can double that feeling of loss.

Animals can be a valuable help and comfort in dealing with bereavement.

No-one to share your day with, mull over problems or even to share a meal. So, taking in a pet, whether it be dog or cat, or even a bird or tortoise, can give companionship in such circumstances.

A dog or a cat perhaps would not only give comfort but possibly develop a whole new lease of life for its owner, meeting new friends on the daily walks.

It is now well known that to stroke an animal is therapeutic and many care homes now allow new residents to bring their pets as well. I’ve known some care homes who invite a visiting dog to meet the residents once or twice a week, and I’ve certainly seen care home cats, making themselves at home.

We hear all the time about the amazing support dogs, such as hearing dogs, but everyday pets are equally amazing. Some acting as alerts when the phone rings or someone is at the door, giving their owners a nudge if they feel they are nodding off and it has been known for dogs to keep their owners warm when they have fallen and been unable to get up and are waiting for help to arrive.

Obviously, this isn’t for everybody but if you or someone you know gives this some serious consideration you need to ensure it is not going to be a burden and you or they would be able to cope. It is also a good idea to consider a rescue animal; the charity involved will always try to match the right person with the right pet.

“How can we do our bit?”

In recent issues of Burpham Pages Ali Fisher has been talking about the environment, sustainability and recycling and how we can take responsibility for our actions and try and slow and perhaps reverse the damage that we are doing to our planet. It seems her words have not been in vane and that we are actually starting to think seriously about these issues. Julie Orgill from Jennifer Margarve Solicitors takes the torch and discusses how, in their office, they are ‘doing their bit’ too.

Talking to Burpham Pages Julie said “Over the summer there has been a massive surge against plastic which has been a wonderful thing to witness.

I was captured by a heart-warming story of two sisters aged 9 and 7 who have taken on the fast food giants, Burger King and McDonald’s, over the plastic toys given away with each kid’s meals. It has been estimated that McDonald’s alone sells over 250 meals, worldwide, per second.

The last article I read the girls had over 400,000 signatures on their petition when they only expected a couple of hundred. They have appeared on national television and are spear-heading this campaign with their aim to try and meet these ‘giants’ of fast food to express their concerns.

When asked whether they still buy these meals they said they did but they handed the toys back to staff. We need to all learn from these amazing girls and the stance children are taking now to protect their planet which, after all, is their future.”

Since Julie made these observations both of the fast food chains have made positive steps to limit the amount of plastic toys sold by either offering an alternative to the toy such as a bag of fruit or a small book, or by removing the toys altogether. Burger King are even installing special collection bins in all of their UK restaurants where people can drop off old and unwanted plastic meal toys which will then be recycled for new uses in store.

Julie continues to discuss how much the efforts of the two schoolgirls have influenced her office’s concerns for the environment “This action only enhances our need to try and do more ourselves. In the office we do our best to reuse and recycle as much as possible; taking as much as we can to the recycling banks, sending toners back for recycling and reusing old files for new matters. We are not shy of loading up the car for a trip to the charity shop or even freecycling old office furniture. It may take a little more effort but isn’t it worth it for our children’s sake?”

Our NHS – How lucky we are

I recently returned from a trip to the United States, travelling from Colorado, through Wyoming to Montana and, along the way, I picked up local newspapers to appreciate what was happening in the town I was passing through. I was saddened to read several articles about the elderly and how they were treated by the health services in the States.

It’s OK if you have money, and can afford the very expensive health insurance but even then if you have ongoing conditions, that insurance could well run out.

There is a form of state health service, but in one article, and I won’t name the county or state, where the newspaper highlighted a scandal in which poor elderly people were not given any treatment and basically left to die. The quote from the doctor horrified me, ‘these people have mental health problems, usually associated with dementia, and have no quality of life.’ The newspaper indicated it was to save money for the state health service.

On the other side of the equation, we ended up in a tiny town called Jordan and headed for their museum but we were three hours off its opening time. But an elderly lady welcomed us, emerging from another part of the building, and offered to open the museum for us. She explained that she was a volunteer for the town’s elderly people’s luncheon club and, as we entered the museum, we could smell good food cooking from the kitchen. This lady showed us a collection of baby pictures taken from the early 1930s up to the 1980s, taken by the local doctor who had ‘worked the town’ for over fifty years. She pointed out the picture of herself in 1932 and I was astonished to realise she was nearly ninety, still sprightly and proud of her work at the centre. Her two children had also been brought into the world by the same doctor. I had a feeling that there was a real community spirit in that town, with everyone being very independent.

But these stories made me think how lucky we are to have a health service that is largely free at the point of service, although of course we pay through our taxes. I was very careful in the US not to have an accident, aware that the first action taken by a doctor or ambulance crew would be to note my credit card details and ask about travel insurance, before taking any steps to treat me.