Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Friday, 24 May 2013

Have I said this before?

Still busy, so, this being dementia awareness week, I am recycling a post from 2010 on the subject; sadly, it appears to be as relevant today as it was then.


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 spot when 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 bit forgetful and the family try and get something done?

If you live some distance away, it is far from easy. First of all you ask the sufferer to go to the GP, but that's no good; even if they agree, 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 a patient - it's confidential". The same thing happens when you ring Social Services, the local hospital and anyone else you can think of - always assuming, of course, that they bother to answer the phone.

Eventually you manage to convey the idea that you think 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 (but somehow fails to spot the unread mail piling up in the hall), 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, hospital Dementia Units are full of patients who have 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.


  1. Sadly, all too often cases are picked up only in the lastest stages, when something goes badly wrong. There are markers that indicate early signs but there is little in the way of systematic screening or monitoring to see whether it is dementia as such or something else neurological.

  2. True, Demetrius. Part of the problem is the various organisations involved don't communicate or, worse, are staffed by jobsworths and the terminally idle.

    And since getting official authority to act on behalf of a relative with dementia is a lengthy process, the agencies involved are at liberty to pass the buck ad infinitum while hiding behind confidentiality and the Data Protection Act.

  3. A GP turns up on the doorstep?

    What country is this you're dreaming about?

    No GP ever turns up on anyone's doorstep any more. What actually happens is that the old person waits a couple of weeks for an appointment, then gets 30 seconds with the GP - to whom they are naturally a complete stranger - who hands over a prescription (all old people want pills, as everyone knows) and shoves them out of the door. Of course they're not going to notice if the old dear's a bit gaga: they've never met them before.

  4. WY, good point - although we are talking a few years ago now, and this wasn't a routine house call but the result of much urgent over-the-phone wrangling after we discovered that the council-appointed home help had gone off in a huff some weeks before without telling anyone.

    (I suspect the home help would agree with the columnist cited this week by Longrider:
    'Mercifully, natural wastage means that fewer and fewer Britons are going to have to deal with relations who [...] persist in speaking the language or displaying the attitudes of a darker, pre-hipster age.')

  5. One for you, I feel:


  6. Julia, thank you!

    You're right, it's too good to miss; there'll be a post on it tomorrow.


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