The only reason I knew was because Twitter had a hashtag. I discovered it late in the day and had a little flurry of tweeting but, thinking about it later, I knew I'd have written something if I'd known earlier.
Today I thought, well why not write about it anyway, especially as Alzheimers - or dementia in some form - will affect most of us in one way or another. Personally, I've two grandparents (one from each of both parents) who suffered, and now my father. For the past decade or two, I've read and kept up with the latest medical and scientific research. Things are improving - albeit slowly - but unless there's an unexpectedly sudden breakthrough, it won't save me if dementia decides to come my way.
'Cos that's the problem, isn't it? It's like cancer. While there are some markers and indicators, there is just no way of knowing which of us will get it and which won't. Certain types of livestyle choices make it more likely, but there are simply far too many people who make good choices - and always have - who are also struck down. I got breast cancer at 53, it was found early, I needed minimal treatment and I now have an excellent prognosis - one which says I'm no more likely that the rest of the population to get cancer. Does that make me feel comforted? Well, yes and no. Yes for the obvious reason that it could be a lot worse, and no because before I got it the first time, I was no more likely that the rest of the population to get it anyway: there's no family history, I'd had one child and breast fed her, I took the pill for less than 5 years and any future birth control was non-hormonal, I was pre-menopausal and have never taken HRT.
So, with two out of four grandparents and one parent (so far) suffering dementia, what are my chances of avoiding it? A more relevant question to ask may be: is it something worth my worrying about? You see, apart from keeping active - mentally and physically - there's nothing I can do. It's not like I can make a living will which says that should I become so afflicted, I give XYZ instructions to take me to Dignitas. I can choose to end my life myself, but why would I want to do that before I lose my cognitive ability? Except that once you've lost your cognitive ability, even if you leave a health & welfare Power of Attorney, your attorney(s) cannot make that decision for you. I wish - fervently - not to be a burden to my daughter, but the way the law stands, I can do nothing about it. Unless, that is, I take my life early and deprive myself of time I could spend with my child (and any children she may have).
But while the law is busy protecting me from unscrupulous attempts to end my life, the country is suffering from a crisis in care. People are living longer - not because of good genes but because of medical intervention. A typical example is my father - he's had a pacemaker for over 10 years and was hospitalised with heart failure three years ago. Medical intervention is keeping him alive and for what? A life of confusion, distress, incontinence, anger and frustration. Fortunately, he's had family care for him in his own home, but that is unlikely to continue for much longer. Support is minimal, unless you can afford to pay for it. A care home costs a minimum of £1k per week as does a live-in carer. If you have no savings and a dependant partner who needs to live there, you can receive funding for supported care without selling up your home. But any pension you might receive will be plundered to help pay for it. If you choose to stay in your home alone, you will receive a maximum of three - brief - visits a day and have to stay in your own bodily fluids or mess in between times.
Yes, it's grim and it's going to happen to more and more of us. We're being kept alive longer, but there's been no progress in provision for the elderly and unwell. We allow our pets to die with dignity, yet we cannot allow our family members to do likewise. It's a tragedy. Please consider supporting any future laws attempting to permit dignity in death. One day it could benefit someone you love.
The Old Shelter
Iain Kelly Writing
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