This page shows the latest items from the Guardian Dementia newsfeed.
Even light exertions can slow down ageing of the brain, activity-tracker data indicates
Even light activity such as household chores might help to keep the brain young, researchers say, adding to a growing body of evidence that, when it comes to exercise, every little helps.
The findings mirror upcoming guidance from the UK chief medical officers, and existing US guidelines, which say light activity or very short bouts of exercise are beneficial to health – even if it is just a minute or two at a time – countering the previous view that there was a threshold that must be reached before there were significant benefits.
A Piece of the Continent, a festival celebrating the unifying influence of European theatre, includes dramas about patriarchy, dogmatism and dementia
As Britain seeks to finalise its divorce from the EU, an inaugural festival celebrates the best of European theatre and its influence on the UK. A Piece of the Continent was created by the Actors Centre and Voila! Europe, as a response to Brexit and the idea of putting a picket fence around Britain’s creative life. It shows that culture is at its greatest when it cross-pollinates. The first three shows in the festival encompass big, universal themes – #MeToo, dementia, religious dogma – and what unifies these hour-long productions is their inventive form.
A Voice (★★★★☆) is the story of a 1960s French singer, Angèle, controlled by François, a predatory impresario, and framed as a cabaret-style musical. Its writer, Anne Bertreau, plays Angèle with a wide-eyed credulousness that is filled with pathos. In her mid-20s but already jaded, she looks back at their relationship with growing horror: “My life became his life, my body became his body.”
A Piece of the Continent is at the Tristan Bates theatre, London, until 27 April.
Scientists may be able to reverse memory decline in individuals (Scientists reverse memory decline using electrical pulses, 8 April), but are they any closer to finding a remedy for our collective dementia?
To read the news, it’s hard to escape the feeling that we are currently in a kind of fugue state. At any moment a politician may be claiming to inhabit a plucky Blitz spirit, an anti-imperial defiance, or a divine role in the plans of the Almighty – indeed sometimes all at once. Couple that with tone-deaf promises to resurrect the United Kingdom’s global ambitions and you’ve got yourself a cabinet minister’s speech.
Staffordshire council decided in 2016 not to assess all cases of restrictive supervision
A council deliberately broke the law by failing to properly assess whether thousands of vulnerable people were illegitimately kept under continuous and restrictive supervision by care home staff, the local government and social care ombudsman has ruled.
Staffordshire contry council decided at an informal cabinet meeting in 2016 that budget cuts meant it would no longer formally consider all requests from care homes and hospitals to place particular residents under tight staff controls.
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It’s tempting to think that the sudden deterioration of my mother’s mental health could be linked to Brexit and our country’s collective nervous breakdown. I know it’s just a coincidence. But I believe that she and many others with Alzheimer’s disease are Brexit victims because the government’s focus on leaving the EU has created a policy vacuum that has cut adrift the most vulnerable people.
I can’t fault the care and compassion shown by the staff at Mum’s home, nor by the social workers
A powerful and beautifully written account, centred on the experience of the author’s father, and identifying a crisis in care
“Life without memory is no life at all,” wrote Luis Buñuel on the plight of his mother, who by the end of her life had no memory left. Woven together over time, memories shape who we are, forming the unique narrative that is our identity.
According to the novelist and journalist Nicci Gerrard, dementia – which “feeds upon the stuff of the past” – is the illness we now fear the most: “The terror of losing memories is the terror of losing the active self.” There are many forms of dementia but more than half of people affected have the neuro-degenerative disease Alzheimer’s. In 2015 some 850,000 people in the UK had dementia and a similar number were undiagnosed. It affects one in six people over 80: “If it’s not you or me, it’s someone we love.” Globally there are 47 million people living with dementia and the cost of treating it is more than the cost of cancer, stroke and heart disease combined.
One in eight adults in the UK cares for someone with dementia – the toll it takes on their lives is largely unrecognised
Nicci Gerrard writes very engagingly about her father’s journey through dementia with her support in his last 10 years (“Dementia is more scary when you try not to think about it”, New Review). He enjoyed a family holiday in Sweden picking forest mushrooms, joining a crayfish party, almost painting a meadow and having a swim in the lake, singing under the moon. Soon after, he went into hospital to heal his leg ulcers; no longer at home and with strict visiting hours, he rapidly became a skeletal, inarticulate ghost who evaporated into death. Nicci’s questions need real engagement.
How can we keep to a minimum the number of old people with dementia visiting hospitals? We need to seek ways to effectively improve health, cope with the challenges and overcome dementia, if this is possible.
St Albans, Herts
In an extract from her new book, the Observer journalist remembers her father’s dementia and death, and reflects on the disease’s impact on society
The year before my father died, he came with us to Sweden for the summer. He had been living with his dementia for more than 10 years by then, and – mildly, sweetly, uncomplainingly – he was gradually disappearing, memories falling away, words going, recognition fading, in the great unravelling. But he was very happy on that holiday. He was a man who had a deep love for the natural world and felt at home in it; he knew the names of English birds and insects, wildflowers and trees. When I was a child, I remember him taking me to listen to the dawn chorus in the woods near our house. Standing under the canopy of trees in the bright wash of sound, he would tell me which song was the mistle thrush and which the blackbird. At least, I think I remember this, but perhaps I make it up as a story to tell myself when I’m sad.
In Sweden, he picked wild mushrooms in the forest, went to a joyful crayfish party where he drank aquavit and wore a garland in his white hair, sat with a palette of watercolours looking out at the meadow although his paintbrush never quite made it to the paper. And one evening, we took him to have a sauna – he loved saunas because they reminded him of the time he had spent in Finland as a carefree young man.
The disease crept into his life slowly and silently, no broken windows or alarm bells, just rustles in the night
The Observer journalist on her father’s dementia, caring for campaigners, and facing her fears in her new book
Nicci Gerrard is a journalist and campaigner, who writes bestselling novels with her husband under the name Nicci French. She won the 2016 Orwell prize for her reporting on the care of dementia patients in the UK.
What compelled you to write this book?
I didn’t want to write a memoir about my father [John Gerrard, who died in 2014 after 10 years with dementia], partly because there have been lots of wonderful memoirs about dementia and I saw no reason to add another, and partly because he was a private man and I didn’t want to invade his privacy more than necessary. But I did need to write a book about dementia, having witnessed what he went through, and then launching John’s Campaign with my friend Julia Jones. I found myself thinking more and more about what it’s like to live with dementia, and also what dementia teaches us about our sense of self, how we value people, and what it is to be vulnerable. It profoundly shook up the way that I thought about all of those things.
Blythe Danner plays a woman with dementia whose husband and children must decide whether it’s time for her to move into a care home
A tissue remained resolutely wedged up my sleeve for the duration of this well-acted, scrupulously polite American indie about a family coping with Alzheimer’s, which has met with ecstatic reviews, but left me a little cold. What We Had is the writing-directing debut of actor Elizabeth Chomko, with Hilary Swank and Michael Shannon as siblings trying to persuade their dad that after a long, happy marriage it’s time for their mum to be moved into care home – or “memory centre” as the glossy brochure grimly puts it.
Swank is chef Bridget, who flies home to Chicago when her mother Ruth (Blythe Danner), who has dementia, is found wandering in the middle of night halfway across town during a snowstorm. Bridget’s brother, Nick (Shannon), thinks it’s time for professional care. Their dad, Burt (Robert Forster), flat out refuses to live apart from his wife. Who can feed and bathe her, tend to her memories better than he can? The intimacy between Burt and Ruth is gently moving: this old-school macho guy putting on marigolds to bleach his wife’s roots.
What a mess, and so unnecessary.” We’re back in the old routine, with the Christmas holiday long gone, and the talk at our cafe and community centre has been dominated by the parallels between Brexit and ageing: after living in the EPU for years, Vicky and John Bull have decided to leave.
In truth, they have never really been part of the crowd at the elderly person’s unit. I only know them by hearsay but with us lot, there’s always been plenty of that. Apparently they never mixed, but only took part in events and special occasions, and then only as co-ordinators, organisers. “Don’t like mucking in … bit insular”, was one verdict.
Darwinian to the core, John didn’t do deals, seeing collaboration with the collective as a sign of individual inadequacy
Bart De Strooper is clear about his decision to accept the post of running Britain’s massive pioneering research project on dementia. “I would have not gone for it had I known what I know now,” the 59-year-old Belgian biologist told the Observer last week.
The cause of his dismay is simple: Brexit has blighted the nation and distorted its attitude to international science, said De Strooper. As a result, his UK Dementia Research Institute, set up in 2016 at a cost of £250m with the aim of turning the UK into a world leader in dementia research, now faces serious funding and recruitment problems.
Another country or group of countries will do it and Britain will be the losers
Charities, lawyers and Labour warn against government rushing out legislation in England and Wales
Changes to mental capacity safeguards – intended to protect hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people – will hand care home managers and private hospitals far too much power, the government has been warned.
The Law Society, mental health charities and Labour have accused the Department of Health and Social Care (DoH) of rushing through legislation that would remove independent scrutiny of the monitoring process to ensure that residents were not subjected to excessive restrictions.
Moving more and strong motor skills seem to help cognitive prowess, results show
Moving more might help to keep people’s brains sharp as they age – even in the face of dementia, researchers have said.
Scientists have found older adults fared better when it came to cognitive tasks if they clocked up higher levels of daily activity on a wrist-based tracker – something the researchers said picked up everything from exercising to mundane tasks like chopping onions.
It’s sad that Susan Tomes’ offer of playing for patients with dementia ground to a halt through red tape (Letters, 12 January). I can relate a very different experience.
I play in an ensemble of 11 (mature) amateur musicians, some of whom only picked up their first instrument at retirement. As a student exercise to try playing in front of an audience, we first offered our services to a local care home and we have never looked back. We play a mixture of American old-time music, with a clientele of care homes, Alzheimer’s support centres and the local hospital. There has never been a question of any form of vetting, even though we are sometimes left to entertain the residents without staff.
Your article on music in dementia care (Making music isn’t a nicety, it’s a necessity, 9 January) illustrates the benefit of using live music to unlock happy memories and powers of communication in dementia sufferers. It also explains that music-making initiatives are often impossible to implement because of the cost.
Some years ago, when I first had experience of family members in care, I realised that live music was a nice thing for dementia patients. As I am a professional pianist, I volunteered to go and play concerts of light and “vintage” piano music in care homes and hospitals. I did a supervised trial event in a long-stay unit, which seemed to show that residents would enjoy more of it.
When Eileen Pegg developed dementia in 2015, she became very anxious and easily agitated. Her carers at MHA Weston and Queensway care home in Stafford were determined to find a way to make her happier, so they decided to see if music would help.
The care home, which is a specialist dementia care unit, has provided music therapy for more than 10 years, and these sessions have made a real difference to Pegg, according to care assistant Chloe Pugh. When Pegg, now 91, attended her first music therapy session in 2016, she was crying and unable to calm down. But immediately afterwards, Pegg was a “completely different person”, smiling and recalling dancing with her husband. “We can’t eliminate her anxiety completely, but we can help to alleviate the symptoms for Eileen, and help her engage more with what’s happening around her,” says Pugh. By singing and clapping along to music or playing instruments at her weekly one-to-one classes, Pegg is calmer, which has encouraged her to participate in other activities, thereby improving her appetite and mood.
Test can help reduce risk of developing dementia, a leading cause of death in the UK
Less than half of people over 40 have taken up a free health check that could reduce the risk of developing dementia, according to NHS England.
Around 15 million people have been eligible to undergo the 20-minute assessment, which screens for heart problems, kidney disease and type 2 diabetes, over the past five years.
My strong, handsome, 5ft tall Geordie grandmother Thomasina travelled from Newcastle to Portsmouth in the 1920s on a coal boat, raised seven children and provided bed and board to merchant seamen as lodgers, constantly washing sheets by hand and torturing them with a mangle.
Like many of her generation, she believed her reputation relied on keeping herself to herself and on how well her brass shone. Around 60, again, like many of her generation, she slipped into old age and died not long after.
Amy Bloom is the award-winning author of four novels, two of which have appeared on the New York Times bestseller list, four collections of short stories, a children’s book and an essay collection
My mother was crying on the floor, naked, except for her black velvet slippers and my daughter’s navy blazer left behind the last time Rebecca visited. The aide put a beige thermal blanket over her, the kind my mother refused to have in her house. It’s like being smothered by tissue, she said. It feels like bark, she said.
“Don’t worry,” the aide said. “We’ll have your mother fixed up in no time.”
About the author
She watched the news, cursing like a sailor. If it hadn’t been for her hatred of Trump, she’d have had no reason to live