John Suchet, a newsreader, hit the headlines yesterday by running with a series of interviews about his wife, Bonnie’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and the way that he, as her carer, had managed this diagnosis as well as the support that he had received.
He spoke of the help given by Admiral Nurses – a kind of Marie Curie-type set up – with specialist dementia nurses rather than cancer nurses.
Anyone watching or reading the interviews given cannot help but be moved by the way that Suchet describes the fading of the memories of the woman he is married to.
Carers do need a lot of support through the process of a diagnosis of dementia.
One area that Suchet spoke about was the need for a wider roll-out of the system of Admiral nurses – although I suspect that is what the Dementia Strategy is envisaging. And in the course of his explanation of the role of the nurse, I recognised a lot of the roles that I undertake myself – or at least endeavour to – from explaining and preparing the changes in relationships and needs as lover becomes carer.
Of course, there is not capacity for the work in CMHTs to be replicated nationwide – nor for everyone who has a diagnosis of dementia to be allocated a care coordinator and the service that Admiral nurses provide is far from national.
In fact, the terms of postcode lottery were mentioned frequently.
I have often thought that if I had a magic wand (or failing that, just more authority and experience) to change the service we provide, I’d like to allocate specific workers to carers. I definitely think a lot more needs to be done, especially with older people where carers are not as able to attend the support groups that exist across the borough.
We don’t have Admiral nurses in our borough but we are blessed by a wonderfully active local branch of the Alzheimer’s Society. I have no doubt that a roll out of a service which provides support and information could be anything other than beneficial.
Sometimes it is a matter of having a telephone number to call and a familiar voice to answer some of the questions, doubts and worries that come with the onset of dementia.
I was considering with the public campaigns of Terry Prachett and now John Suchet in going public regarding dementia, if we are turning a milestone in terms of publicity.
I also ponder on the fact that the people who become the public spokespeople for dementia and Alzheimer’s are those affected by early onset Alzheimer’s. I wonder if it is part of a marginalisation of older people or just an ability to identify more with people who don’t seem to be ‘so old’.
Not that I’m knocking it – I think identification with public figures does go a long way to societal acceptance. Maybe people who had not thought of discussing their experiences of their or their family’s dementia might be encouraged to do so as a result of these pushes.
In any case I hope some of the stigma that exists around dementia will drop away and people will feel more able to talk.
It does bring me back to a discussion I had a couple of years ago with the wife of a man who has severe depression to the extent that he pretty much wasn’t getting out of bed. She confided to me that she almost wished she could tell people he had dementia because she thought they would be able to understand it better than telling them that he had depression.
Food for thought.