Old PersonFifteen different pills, that’s FIFTEEN pills each day for one person; that’s what the dear old man I saw slowly shuffling into the doctors’ surgery takes to keep going. We’re not living longer; we’re being pickled by the pharmaceutical corporations who have taken it upon themselves to have a face-off with the grim reaper, all for our benefit.

What kind warm-hearted souls they are. Pah! No they’re not, not if the increase in care homes is anything to go by and more so, the increase in dementia cases as our brains cease to function at full capacity whilst our bodies are kept alive by a host of different chemicals.

But that’s the way it is and that’s why I set up a literary service specifically for the elderly who are being left high and dry in their lonely isolated world. So when I saw a Dementia Training Workshop advertised, I was keen to find out more.

HOME INSTEAD SENIOR CARE

It was run by Mark McGlade, the MD of ‘Home Instead Senior Care’ and he gave out some pretty alarming statistics; there are over 850,000 people in the UK who suffer from dementia, that’s equivalent to the entire population of the county of Devon; and that number is set to double within the next 20 years.

The cost to the NHS alone is £23 billion per year.

The cost to human health and well-being – only 22% of sufferers are said to be ‘living well’, said Mark and by that you can assume it means they have a reasonable quality of life. As for the rest of them, it’s probably anything from being locked in a room day after day to being alone in their homes with a carer visiting.

A former Royal Navy officer who flew helicopters for a living, Mark brought the American based ‘Home Instead’ to Devon. A far cry from the glamour and excitement of flying but Mark could see it was an important service for the growing number of elderly people needing help.

Of course many of us are only too aware how the ‘care for the elderly’ system works; in an effort to keep people in their own homes, carers call on them during the day and sometimes the night. Mark suggested the average time a care worker spends with someone is around 18 minutes however I think he is being overly optimistic; in my experience you’re lucky if it’s 10 with very little in the way of interaction or time for niceties.

This is why we need to completely remodel the way we deal with the elderly but specifically dementia sufferers because our lack of understanding is leading to problems for the sufferer and their families.

Mark was there not only to talk about dementia but to sell the services of ‘Home Instead’ and whilst I agree with all he said, he wasn’t able to discuss the behind-the-scenes technical stuff which I really wanted to explore.

DEMENTIA OR NOT?

I asked him if he thought there was the danger that in their eagerness to establish cause the specialists will start categorising people who are merely suffering the effects of old age e.g. slowing down and forgetfulness and label them as having dementia whereas they are simply getting old. Similarly a urinary infection in the elderly can display the same symptoms of dementia and it is easily treated with a course of antibiotics.

Then there is depression, stress or the side effects of certain drugs; all can trigger similar symptoms.

By slotting people all too readily into the dementia spectrum, would this not do the very opposite of what they were trying to achieve?

But this was not within his remit and he made reference to the increasing number of young people who are being diagnosed with Korsakoff Syndrome which can be as a result of alcohol abuse i.e. dementia is no longer restricted to the elderly.

DIAGNOSIS

So it has to be important to get an accurate diagnosis and this can include a mental aptitude test e.g. the mini mental state examination (MMSE) that studies communication skills, memory and understanding instructions. Then there are brain scans and blood tests all of which will help establish whether or not dementia is a factor in a person’s behaviour.

Once the diagnosis has been given there may be a number of options made available but the sad fact of the matter is that currently there is no reliable treatment to stop or reverse dementia so a diagnosis could be seen as the death knell for many.

And this is why I raised the question about misdiagnosis; it wasn’t unusual during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries for lunatic asylums to be paid by a disgruntled or greedy family member to incarcerate someone never to be seen again. There are known cases of perfectly balanced people being hauled off to the asylum where they might be kept in chains, abused, even left to die.

Now of course I’m not saying anything like that is going to happen but it concerns me that as the medical profession moves ever closer to playing God, being the arbiter of who lives and for how long, how easy it could become for them to classify people, thereby removing their liberty and taking over the running of their life and having seen myself how easily an official gives an opinion based on a brief questionnaire, will each and every one of us soon be slotted into a category?

There are a growing number of dementia types the most common being Alzheimer’s, then there’s vascular and fronto-temporal dementia and a relatively more recent one is mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

HUMANOID PRODUCTION LINE

As we move towards a more automated society where machines are replacing people and where spyware is being used in devices to monitor what we do and say, how long before our every activity and word is monitored and analysed and if we should display certain characteristics, will something be flagged up and instead of a relative paying the asylum to cart us away it is the support system itself who will decide if we meet their criteria.

So having played God the medical industry now faces the challenge of what to do with all the people they have so diligently kept alive; employing yet more specialists who will test us to see where they can slot us in.

I cannot help but feel we have become a production line of humanoids no longer in control of our own destiny; the scene out of The Time Machine with the Eloi and Morlocks is suddenly frighteningly possible.

Alive or Dead?
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