Today (September 21) marks the anniversary of World Alzheimer’s Day which aims to raise public awareness about this most common form of dementia.
By 2030 more than 20 million people in the UK will be aged 60 or over. For people familiar with dementia it is one of the diseases most feared as they approach 60 years of age, a fear justified given the increased prevalence of the disease once we reach this milestone, a fear heightened by the fact that it is irreversible and terminal.
The impact of all this truly hit home during a recent conversation with my mother. Renowned for her ability to trounce all-comers at Scrabble, she struggled to recall the word ‘padlock’ prompting her to quip, with mock seriousness, that perhaps she was succumbing to the disease. My mother’s perception of Alzheimer’s still follows a traditional and mistaken one that Alzheimer’s disease is a typical and therefore ‘normal’ part of ageing. She is not alone: it is estimated that around 60% of people worldwide also incorrectly believe this, while 40% of people mistakenly think it is not fatal. I on the other hand stopped dead in my tracks. The sudden realisation that my mother’s uncharacteristic memory block might genuinely be a precursor to the more serious cerebral ‘padlocks’ associated with dementia. As a researcher involved in dementia I was only too well aware that Stage 2 of the disease is generally represented by very mild cognitive decline, including deficits to semantic memory that can include a sudden inability to recall everyday words. Much worse though was my knowledge that the later stage of Alzheimer’s can be marked by far more severe symptoms as part of a terminal degenerative process that can endure for 15 long years. A key question ran through my mind at this point: who would care for my mother if she did develop dementia?