Dementia Awareness

This post is dedicated to the memory of my Mum, who died nine years ago this week, on 15th May 2008.

This Sunday was celebrated in many countries around the world as Mothers’ Day, although not here in the UK, as we mark the occasion on the fourth Sunday in Lent, which in effect means we do it in March. I’m rather grateful for this, as it would be too poignant a memory for me if we were celebrating around the time of Mum’s passing. It is also a poignant time of year for another reason, and so I’ve decided to rework and update a post I originally wrote in 2013.

Following closely on last week’s Mental Health Awareness Week – which I wrote about in Feeling Good? – is another aimed at raising awareness of a condition that affects many. From 14th to 20th May it is Dementia Awareness Week, which is run here in the UK by the Alzheimer’s Society. The theme for this year’s campaign is ‘Unite Against Dementia’ and as usual there will be activities and events across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Society’s hope is that people will be encouraged to take part and, by so doing, learn more about dementia, as the longer we all live the more of us will be affected by it – either ourselves or in a loved one. It is therefore important that we all know more about the condition, so that we can recognise the signs and will know how to cope if a loved one is diagnosed with dementia in any of its forms. In the Society’s words ‘The more we know about dementia, the more prepared we’ll be to face it.’

As you’ve probably guessed from the rather large clue in the dedication for this post, I have first hand experience of a loved one with dementia. Mum lived an independent life for many years but there came that awful time when we realised that she needed round the clock support, the kind that can only be given in a nursing home. The one we found was a good one and they looked after Mum very well, even when she was shouting that they were trying to murder her when they put her in the hoist to get her out of bed! But in her last year her decline from dementia was noticeable – she still recognised my sister and me when we visited her until the very late stages of her life, and could hold a perfectly sensible conversation for quite a while. But over time she became less able to converse, and the standard symptoms of memory loss began to show. She was taken into hospital as she wasn’t feeding well, and they told us that there was nothing they could really do for her. In effect, her dementia had affected her brain’s working so much that it wasn’t telling her body how to function – it had ‘forgotten’ how to eat and drink, so Mum had to be given this via a drip. Within a week of being discharged back to the nursing home she slipped peacefully away.

I’m telling you this partly, I suspect, because it helps me to set it down – especially this close to the anniversary – but because I know what the Alzheimer’s Society means when it talks about how the illness can affect others, not just the sufferer. It isn’t a preventable disease in the sense that medicine will stop it taking hold, but there are ways to live with it and enjoy a satisfying life. But you need to be ready, and you need to be aware. That’s why I’m supporting Dementia Awareness Week, and hope that you will too.

If you want to find out more, the Alzheimer’s Society’s dedicated page has all that you need to know about the week. Their site also has links to some very helpful literature for downloading – there is a wealth of useful information here, though you may have to search! They also tell you about the various ways you can get involved, either by organising or taking part in events or by uniting with someone against dementia and posting your picture on their wall.

As is my usual custom with my Dates To Note pieces if I’m giving you the link to the NHS website for more information. It is well worth a look if you want to find out more about this pernicious disease.

If you know someone you fear may be suffering but has not yet been diagnosed, this would be a good time to follow up on the advice I’ve linked you to. Only about 45% of sufferers are diagnosed and treated appropriately, and even though the Government has recognised the need to do more they have yet to demonstrate any real commitment to doing something about it. Maybe, once the dust has settled on our election, they will take some real, much needed action – but I’m not holding my breath.

Be aware. Get involved. Please.

International Day of Happiness

In case you hadn’t noticed and the festivities had passed you by, today is International Day of Happiness. I think we could be forgiven for not noticing this as the celebrations here in the UK appear to be non-existent. How could this be? This is a long-standing tradition that goes all the way back to, er, 2012, when it was first decreed by the United Nations. Here’s the relevant extract from their resolution, in case you don’t believe me:

The words are worthy, but I have a huge degree of difficulty in understanding how anyone can think that we can be told to be happy. It’s a bit like telling a depressed person to ‘get over it,’ it isn’t something that can be made to happen just because someone says so, or wants it to happen. Frankly, with all the evidence to the contrary, I think the UN is on a loser with this one and has many far more serious matters worthy of its attention. The world is in a mess, and decreeing a day to be happy is, frankly, ludicrous. Here in the UK we’re faced with the ramifications of the vote to leave the EU: the levels of xenophobia and racism that the campaign and its aftermath have stirred up; the uncertain financial and political future our country will face when we go it alone, led by a government that is clinging grimly to a mantra that everything will be wonderful when, in reality, they are as clueless as the rest of us; the possibility that not only will we leave the EU but will see the UK break up. Reasons to be cheerful? I think not.

Take a look at the wider world and the situation is no better. ISIS and other terrorists are implacable enemies of peace and harmony. There are ‘populist’ movements throughout Europe making electoral gains. And the largest ‘populist’ vote of them all was the one that bought the lies of a conman only interested in feathering his own nest but has somehow persuaded a minority vote to get him elected President of the US, due to their crazy Electoral College system. But, to be fair, he does seem to be doing his bit to contribute to Happiness Day: we Brits are still laughing helplessly at his assertion that GCHQ was somehow involved in the plot he imagines Obama started to bug his offices. Trumpgate; the comedy gift that keeps on giving.

I could go on at length about this, but that is not the aim of this post and many, far better informed, commentators than I exist to do this. My point today is to pick up on the apparent stupidity of designating a day to be one on which governments worldwide can do something to highlight and improve an emotional construct. Try telling that to the many refugees around the world, or those who are discriminated against for reasons of religion, ethnicity or colour – and by this I don’t mean those who happen to be orange. The phrase ‘pissing in the wind’ comes to mind.

I’ve painted a deliberately negative picture, and no doubt there are loads of activities and initiatives being taken today in the name of happiness. One such example is this piece from today’s Metro newspaper. There’s nothing new here, but advice on how to improve your mental health can never be repeated too much. To me, that is exactly what encouraging people to be happy is all about. There is allegedly a website for the day – happinessday.org – and I was going to give you a link to it. But I’ve tried it in four different browsers and it doesn’t load – maybe it’s crashed under the weight of interest?

But whatever is being done today in the name of happiness, I wonder how much of it has any long-term sustainable benefit. Maybe it’s just me being an old curmudgeon but I suspect that all the worthy efforts that may be being made will soon be forgotten, and that is really sad. Governments, those with the power and money, should be doing much more to help us all be happier. But vested interests tend to get in the way, and the rich continue to get richer at the expense of the less privileged. It will take a lot more than a token day to change that for the better.

One of the things in life that makes me happy is music. So, not wanting this to be an entirely negative post, I leave you with three minutes of musical happiness:

Try telling me you aren’t happier after watching that than you were before! Have a good day, and be happy – remember, it’s mandatory 😊