Coping with dementia means understanding how to prevent it
At any one point, someone in my team is likely working on a case involving a family dealing with dementia. Sadly, these cases often involve negligent treatment from health service providers who have either misdiagnosed the problem or have failed to offer the appropriate care.
Jill Greenfield wrote on the BBC recently how her client living with early stage dementia who was hit by a van was side-lined onto a dementia ward rather than receiving the vital brain injury rehabilitation he needed to recover.
Jill and the family felt that the police and the hospital's diagnosis of this lively, charming man stopped once the D word came up. Tragically, he died without leaving hospital. In the opinion on the expert on the case, had he received timely rehabilitation, he would probably have lived a fulfilling life for several more years.
We currently have two other ongoing fatal cases where a dementia patient jumped out of a window of a care home and another where a patient was wrongly fed solid food by hospital staff and choked.
Dementia 'time bomb'
Mainly because of our ageing population, dementia is an illness set to grow. The Alzheimer's Society forecasts that the number of people with dementia in the UK will increase to more than one million by 2025. Currently, it affects one in every 79 of the UK population, 1 in every 14 of the population aged 65 years and over.
There is talk of a 'dementia time bomb' that the state cannot cope with. While the Alzheimer's Society would rather we considered the illness as steadily increasing rather than exploding, the truth is that dementia will absorb a major chunk of UK health resources. It is currently estimated at £19 billion a year, while the cost in heartbreak is incalculable.
Earlier this year, David Cameron outlined government plans to make the UK the most dementia friendly society in the world by 2020. The plans focus on better diagnosis, care and support and, perhaps most importantly, on the research that could help us all to reduce our likelihood of suffering the illness.
This week, a study of Harvard research was published in the Journal of Neuroscience. It examines a group of older adults, described as 'super-agers' because their memories resemble those of much younger people.
While some memory loss is generally considered a natural part of ageing, this new study reveals that for some people, that's simply not the case. Certain key areas of the brains of some of the 60-80 year-olds tested were similar to people 40 or 50 years younger. Somehow, their memories, and particularly the areas of the brain responsible for learning and remembering new information, had remained remarkably resilient over time.
The researchers concluded that keeping our memory healthy as we age depends on maintaining effective communication between certain networks in the brain.
Obviously, this research is at an early stage. But the Harvard scientists hope that understanding which factors protect against memory decline could lead to important advances in treating age-related memory loss and various forms of dementia.
It's a sad truth that most of us at some point will be affected by dementia. The medical negligence and personal injury team here will continue to campaign for the proper treatment and support for our clients living with the illness to ensure of the best quality of life for them and their families.
In the meantime, the Government is right to target and encourage research. It is the only way to understand and halt the spread of dementia. It can then become our own personal responsibility to understand how to protect ourselves as far as possible from the reality of this cruel disease.
By Paul McNeil
Paul McNeil has more than 25 years experience acting for those injured through medical negligence or personal injury accidents. Many of Paul’s cases involve serious head injuries or birth injuries and have settled for over £1 million. This ensures that Paul’s clients receive adequate compensation to pay for education, rehabilitation, care and treatment.
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