If you start losing your marbles, you'd expect someone to notice. After all, even if you are blissfully unaware, your nearest and dearest will surely notice something is wrong.
But not, it seems, your GP. A report in the British Medical Journal accuses doctors of doing 'too little too late' to diagnose dementia. The Chair of the Royal College of GPs agrees, calling the study a 'wake-up call for GPs'.
So what happens when a relative gets more than a a bit forgetful and the family try and get something done?
First of all you ask the sufferer to go to the GP, but that's no good; they may get as far as the surgery, if you're lucky or you go with them, but once they're in there, they forget what they were supposed to ask.
So you try again - ring the surgery and ask for help. Tough luck - there's the Data Protection Act: "We can't talk to you about another patient - it's confidential". The same thing happens when you ring Social Services, the local hospital and anyone else you can think of.
Eventually you've managed to convey the idea that something's badly wrong - so a GP actually turns up unannounced on the doorstep (not so good if you've advised your vulnerable elderly relative not to let strangers into the house).
The GP has a cursory look, checks blood pressure and asks whether your relative smokes (got to get those boxes ticked!), and then comes the crucial question; "Do you know who's Prime Minister?" Quick as a flash, back comes the correct answer. Excellent - job done! No need for more, all's well, goodbye.
Only News 24 is on in the background - and loathing of the current PM is one of your relative's favourite and more lucid topics. Had the GP enquired further, he might have been surprised to learn that Bobby Robson captains the England team - on a scandalous wage of £300 per week - and that beer has gone up to 8p a pint, but you mustn't grumble because the Secret Police are listening.
Off the record, a health worker tells me that in some areas, even after diagnosis, hospital waiting lists are so long that almost all patients in the Dementia Unit come in via A&E, having had a fall, injured themselves or been found wandering the streets in a state of confusion.
If you hear about a dementia sufferer in this situation, spare a thought for the family who let things get that far; they may not be neglectful, indifferent or unkind, but just victims of seemingly unbreakable NHS red tape.
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