Uncle David would not mind me mentioning that he wasn’t somebody who was overly keen on physical exercise over and above a good brisk walk. He was however a scholar, designer, word smith and highly regarded pipe-smoking craftsman. I remember much about him with fondness especially his anecdotes and astounding knowledge of any and everything to do with triangulation. He was one of a rare breed with the ability, knowledge and application to be equally at home with the exacting nature of physics and mechanical engineering and that of the artisan, painstakingly crafting a piece of wood into a fine piece of furniture or layering gouache onto canvas with such finesse.
I watched David, my wife’s uncle who was more like a father to her, linger and die of dementia or rather the effects of dementia. It was truly awful to see a man of such former mental agility suffer so and finally leave this world in such a cruel fashion. They say that there is no good way to go, to leave or vacate this mortal coil but I would have it said differently. Dementia is one of the worse ways to go if for no other reason than the effect it can have on those who love you .
We have no cure and no real sight of one and yet there are more people in the world today with dementia than can be looked after in a right and proper fashion. Some estimates indicate there are as many as 50 million sufferers in the world today and it is not just a disease affecting older people. As many as 42,000 individuals under the age of 65 have one type or another of the disease in the UK alone. People with dementia, whether it be Alzheimer’s. Vascular or any other type under the Umbrella term for the condition, need 24 hours around the clock attention especially towards the end of their life. This is something myself and my wife have both had personal experience of and it is totally exhausting. With the current problems we are all facing relative to COVID and life expectancy climbing exponentially, increases in the prevalence of Dementia with some estimates of nearly 2% of 65 to 70 year olds having the disease, we are on the edge of a catastrophe.
I am not using these pages and fiftyfiveUP as a podium from which to urge you to part with money for dementia research. There are many people banging that drum among myriad other charities all hoping to get their voices heard above the cacophony of COVID that has, and continues to decimate livelihoods and by definition people’s ability to donate
charitably. I am not here to write about vaccines or potential cures that are being worked on for there is much information available in the public arena for you to uncover if you have a mind. The particular points I want to raise are regarding how we as individuals can do more to help against dementia by changing our life-style and how governments should be doing more in their support of such types of disease.
I am 66 years of age so have seen many UK governments promising this and promising that, sometimes delivering but often not. I am not cynical as a result just realistic in the way I set my expectation levels, particularly during times of crisis, fully understanding the ever-increasing burden on the country's finances. However, with dementia we cannot continue to do so little with regard to so many. In dementia we have a global emergency of such a size that it's level of impact on society over the next few years has the potential to tear our social fabric to pieces.
You have to go back many years to find a point in time when then there was a worldwide concerted effort and focus by politicians to look not only at funding a cure but a more effective societal approach to help support dementia sufferers. However, since the heady days of 2013, David Cameron and various summits, the urgency with which we were told all things dementia were to be addressed has fallen well behind Cancer and others, particularly in terms of research. Things need to change and change quickly with regard to politicians getting around a table with other world powers to put in place a definitive strategy because there does not seem to be one at the moment.
However, it is not all about Governments and us, it is about WE, for we as a society to my mind have an obligation to help ourselves as much as possible through good lifestyle management as an aid to help mitigate the chances of serious illness. This of course stems from leading a healthier lifestyle, exercising more and eating more sensibly. It has been unequivocally proven over the last few decades that losing weight, eating well, not smoking and sleeping better as well as cutting down on the booze , particularly in our middle years , can reduce the risk of dementia later down the line. I make no apology for banging on about the need to look after ourselves more proactively. This is part of the reasoning for launching fiftyfiveUp in the first place.
There is mounting evidence that suggests that as many of 40% of cases of dementia can be delayed or averted by changing behaviour earlier in our lives; and the positive changes we bring about relative to lifestyle should not only be physical. Our cognitive processes can be significantly helped by regular reading, doing puzzles, quizzes, computer games and crosswords or any other type of mentally - challenging activity that tests our mental facilities. As with any other muscle in the body, one’s brain needs regular stimulation and the cerebral equivalent of push ups, deadlift ts along with the occasional 5k run.
My uncle David and his contemporaries born in the 1920s had something of an excuse for most of their early years, simply put they were ignorant to the facts of life surrounding exercise, smoking and healthy living. We on the other hand have no such excuse.